By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is open to a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
"We're going to morph into it. It's going to happen at some point in the future," Trump told reporters before leaving Washington for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "
The acknowledgement is the first time Trump said that he would support the policy for recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shielded roughly 800,000 people, collectively known as "Dreamers", from deportation.
DACA, however, did not provide the group with a way to U.S. citizenship, and Trump abruptly ended the program last year, telling Congress to come up with a legislative fix.
Trump said the process to achieve citizenship, which he said "gives incentive to do a great job", should take between 10-12 years.
"Whatever they're doing, if they do a great job, I think it's a nice thing to have the incentive of, after a period of years, being able to become a citizen," he said.
Lawmakers have until March 5, to broker a deal to ensure DACA does not lapse, and those protected by the program do not face deportation. The White House is slated to unveil a framework plan on immigration reform next week, and Trump said Dreamers should not fear deportation.
He previously insisted that his support for any immigration bill include funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he previously said Mexico would pay for.
Trump's comments drew praise from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who repeatedly said on Twitter "Today’s DACA recipients can be tomorrow’s #TRUMPDreamers!"
Dick Durbin, the Senate' Democratic Whip, also offered measured praise, saying Trump is "headed in the right direction here".
The immigration debate has been a major source of contention between Democrats and Republicans, and resulted in a three-day government shutdown that ended Monday after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to take up the DACA issue in a "fair" way if lawmakers cannot broker an agreement by Feb. 8 -- the day that the short-term spending bill funds the government through.