An advocacy group for young immigrants expressed concern Wednesday after President Barack Obama, at his first press conference in months, said he would support "a pathway for legal status" for those living in the country illegally.
That Obama used the phrase "legal status" instead of "citizenship" raised alarm bells for some deep in the weeds of immigration advocacy, since some more conservative immigration reformers think the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally should be given legal status but not the opportunity to become citizens.
"He looked like he sidestepped around saying 'citizenship,'" said Marisol Valero, spokeswoman for United We Dream, a group that represents young people who were brought to the country illegally as children and want the opportunity to become citizens. "We are worried that the president and other leaders will not be supporting a path to citizenship for everyone."
But a White House official told Yahoo News the president was outlining his blueprint for reform that the administration released in May, which says illegal immigrants who have no criminal record and meet certain criteria should be able to apply for citizenship after about 15 years. "It was his position three years ago, two years ago, one year ago, and it is his position today," the official said. "The blueprint shows exactly what he was describing. It's very clear."
Later in his response at the press conference, Obama also said he wanted young illegal immigrants—commonly referred to as "Dreamers" after the Dream Act legislative proposal—to have "every opportunity to earn their citizenship." The president said Congress must "seize the moment" to both increase security at the border, impose penalties on companies that purposely hire undocumented workers and legalize "those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here simply to work."