President Donald Trump, who staked his campaign on a hard-line approach to illegal immigration, now says he is open to considering possible legal status for some undocumented immigrants as part of a compromise to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
“The time is right for an immigration bill, as long as there is compromise on both sides,” Trump told news anchors and correspondents attending a White House luncheon today.
The president is floating the idea ahead of his first address to a joint session of Congress tonight, signaling a willingness to negotiate on an issue that has pitted Democrats against some Republicans for years. It was not immediately clear whether the president would raise the issue in his speech.
Trump indicated openness to moving beyond a strict focus on law enforcement to addressing the legal status of some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. – including a possible path to citizenship for “DREAMers,” who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“They shouldn't be very worried. They are here illegally. They shouldn't be very worried. I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody,” Trump told ABC News' David Muir in his first televised White House interview in January.
“Now we have criminals that are here. We have really bad people that are here. Those people have to be worried 'cause they're getting out. We're gonna get them out. We're gonna get 'em out fast,” he added.
Trump campaigned as a “law and order” candidate, vowing strict enforcement of existing immigration laws and sweeping effort to step up deportations. The Department of Homeland Security last week issued a directive to initiate stricter enforcement measures.
The White House is also preparing to unveil a new, revised executive order restricting travel and immigration from seven majority Muslim countries after the original order was put on hold by a federal court. That order could come down as early as Wednesday.
The president has said he is most sympathetic to the plight of "DREAMers," saying at a press conference earlier this month that he finds it “very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do."
“I's a very difficult thing for me because, you know, I love these kids. I love kids,” he said.
Immigrant advocates reacted cautiously to the president’s comments.
“We are not ready to praise him or Republicans,” said Cesar Vargas, director of the Dream Action Coalition in a statement. “Before Trump can be taken seriously, we need to see details.”
Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from New Mexico, said of Trump's openness to an immigration reform bill, “We’ve been ready.”
ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed to this report.