"If you knowingly violated our law, you violated our sovereignty," he said Thursday, according to Talking Points Memo. "I think we should normalize your status but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship."
Given the views of many on the right, it's hard for House Republicans to embrace citizenship, which some of them have derided as "extreme." Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have declined to endorse it.
But isn't embracing second-class legal status about the worst possible political option?
Quinnipiac polling released Thursday studies the range of immigration policy options with the right degree of nuance.
Consider this question: "Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States? (A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. (B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. (C) They should be required to leave the U.S."
Fifty-six percent of respondents picked citizenship. Staying without citizenship, which some Republicans like to portray as the middle ground, is supported by just 10 percent of Americans and 11 percent of independents.
That position is also supported by only 13 percent of Latinos while 70 percent of them back citizenship. Only 11 percent of Republicans support the non-citizenship option. Indeed, far more Republicans (40 percent) back citizenship.
(On the other side, a whopping 46 percent of Republicans support deportation, so a big chunk of the GOP base isn't willing to cut Republican officeholders slack even to support non-citizenship.) Second-class status pleases virtually no one.
When offered a range of policy options, a comfortable majority including a majority of independents supports citizenship. It's the mainstream position.
It's understandable that Republicans need to move cautiously on immigration, but it's hard to see how they will meaningfully moderate their party's image on this issue or begin to repair relations with Latinos if they can't find a way to embrace genuine reform.
Almost nobody wants this problem resolved with the creation of a massive subclass of Americans.