POLITICS

GOP presidential candidate John Kasich softens his tone on immigration, raising eyebrows

June 30, 2015: Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks about Ohio's 2016-2017 operating budget before signing it in Columbus, Ohio.

June 30, 2015: Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks about Ohio's 2016-2017 operating budget before signing it in Columbus, Ohio.  (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who catapulted into the limelight with an unexpected strong performance at the first GOP debate last Thursday, says that undocumented immigrants who have not been involved in crimes should have a chance to establish legal permanent residency in the United States.

In a CNN interview, Kasich, whose candidacy had been dwarfed by other fellow Republicans who have dominated the headlines and had national high profiles even before they launched presidential campaigns, said: “[The] 11 or 12 million who are here, we ought to find out who they are. If they've been law-abiding over a period of time, they ought to be legalized, and they ought to be able to stay here."

Kasich’s comments raised some eyebrows.

In the past, Kasich has carved out a hard line on immigration issues.

He has spoken out against automatic U.S. citizenship for babies born in this country to undocumented immigrants. He also has called for a fence all along the U.S.-Mexico border.

While he still expressed support for the fence in the CNN interview on Sunday, he backed away from opposing birthright citizenship.

"I don't think we need to go there,” he responded when asked about the topic.

“There are people who contribute a lot to the United States of America,” Kasich said. “If you have violated the law, we're going to ship you out. And once that fence gets built…I think we should make it clear, anybody who sneaks in, you're going back home.”

The governor added that he supports a guest worker program, though he did not say if he would expand it or alter the one that already exists.

He also said that undocumented immigrants who come in as minors should be given breaks.

“In terms of these people who were brought here, young children, you know, in our state they can get driver's licenses,” he said. “We treat them with respect.”

Kasich said that immigration has not been addressed effectively in Congress because of the excessive fighting among lawmakers over the issue.

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