WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama attempted on Tuesday to give Congress space to work out immigration reform, but said he would draw the line at any bill from the House that omits a path to citizenship.
"Now, I haven't seen what members of the House are yet proposing, and maybe they think that they can answer some of those questions differently or better, and I think we've got to be open-minded in seeing what they come up with," he said at a press conference at the White House. "The bottom line, though, is that they've still got to meet those basic criteria. Does it make the border safer? Does it [deal] with employers and how they work with the governments to make sure that people are not being taken advantage of or taking advantage of the system? Are we improving our legal immigration system? And are we creating a pathway for citizenship for the 11 million or so who are undocumented in this country?"
A bipartisan group in the House is working on an immigration bill, but has not yet announced its details or timeline. One of the group's members, Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), said on Monday that their bill will pose a tougher path to citizenship than the bipartisan "gang of eight" plan proposed in the Senate.
"If they meet those criteria but they're slightly different from the Senate bill, then I think we should be able to come up with an appropriate compromise," Obama continued. "If it doesn't meet those criteria, then I will not support such a bill. So we'll have to wait and see."
The "gang of eight" put out its bill earlier this month. The bill would give legal status and an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, tied to border security measures. It would also require employment verification, create a new guest-worker program, and move the legal immigration system toward merit-based visas.
But the bill leaves out some of the measures requested by the president, such as equal treatment for same-sex binational couples who want to apply for legal status for the foreign-born partner. Its border provisions, which would trigger the path to citizenship, also differ from Obama's plan, which would strengthen border security without tying it to undocumented immigrants' status.
Obama said he is "impressed" with the bill but had some issues with it. Still, he indicated he'd be willing to compromise.
"The bill that they produced is not the bill that I would have written," he said. "There are elements that I would change, but I do think that it meets the basic criteria that I laid out from the start ... and I think it's a testament to the senators that were involved. They made some tough choices and made some tough compromises in order to hammer out that bill."
Even if the House and Senate bills differ, Obama said he thinks immigration reform can pass.
"I feel confident that the bipartisan work that's been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate, passes the House, and gets on my desk," he said. "And that's going to be a historic achievement."