President Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)
WASHINGTON — President Obama expects to see a comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in Congress “very soon” after his inauguration in late January, he said during a news conference Wednesday.
“I am very confident we can get immigration reform done,” Obama said.
Obama said that White House staff has already begun conversations with members of the Senate and the House on how to line up the votes to get an immigration bill to his desk for signing.
“We need to seize the moment,” said Obama, adding that he is “already seeing signs” that some Republicans are willing to discuss the immigration issue.
PHOTOS: 2016 presidential possibilities
In the days after Obama was reelected with over 70% of the Latino vote, some top Republicans -- including House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- signaled that they are open to drafting a comprehensive package of new immigration laws.
Obama outlined what he would like to see included in an immigration reform package but did not answer a question about whether he would send a draft of the legislation to Congress to consider. Mitt Romney criticized Obama during the campaign for not sending an immigration reform bill to Congress during his first term despite a long-standing promise to make the issue a priority.
Any package would have to continue strong border security measures, enact serious penalties for companies purposely hiring undocumented workers as well as create a pathway to legal status for those living in this country, he said. An avenue for legal status would have to require applicants to learn English and pay back taxes and a fine, he said.
A bill would also have to protect young immigrations who were brought to the country illegally by their parents, Obama said.
PHOTOS: Reactions to Obama's victory
“Young people who came here through no fault of their own, they should not be under the cloud of deportation,” he said. The Obama administration launched a program in August that has awarded work permits to more than 20,000 young immigrants who came to the country as children. The initiative, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is widely cited as an important motivating factor for convincing record numbers of Latino voters to come out in favor of Obama in election day.
Obama said he was pleased to see voter turnout go up among Latinos in the presidential election. More political engagement from Hispanic voters is “good for the country,” Obama said.
Follow Politics Now on Twitter and Facebook