Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants to allow law-abiding undocumented immigrants to achieve legal status, saying many immigrants "contribute a lot to the United States."
"The 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," the Republican presidential candidate told CNN's "State of the Union"
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In the past, Kasich had supported the elimination of "birthright citizenship," which allows almost all children born in the United States to automatically become citizens, reports The Wall Street Journal
. But on CNN, he seemed to back away from that stance, telling show host Jake Tapper that he didn't "think we need to go there."
Kasich's comments came amid a new push on illegal immigration sparked by front-runner Donald Trump's campaign announcement comments on Mexican immigrants and events that have included the death of Kate Steinle
, who was killed by an illegal immigrant while she was walking with her father on a San Francisco pier.
On Sunday, the governor also called for a fence along the southern border, and to make it clear that "anybody who sneaks in, you're going back home."
Kasich also said he believes that a guest worker program is needed so people can enter the United States, work, and then "go back and support their family."
He also pointed out that in his state, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children can get driver's licenses, as "we treat them with respect."
Overall, the governor, who entered the race late, told CNN that the United States needs to solve its issues with immigration, but "we're not getting it fixed because there's too much fighting and people are spending too much time being negative, instead of building a fence, getting through this, and moving on."
The Republican Party has been pushing to draw Hispanic voters away from voting for Democrats, reports the Journal, and Kasich in November told the Republican Governors Association Meeting in Florida that he doesn't "like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, but we may have to do it."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also called for a path to legal status, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last week called for securing the border and enforcing immigration laws.
Meanwhile, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, also a GOP presidential candidate, has backed away from a 2013 immigration overhaul effort he co-wrote
, saying in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference that people who criticized his bill were proven right by President Barack Obama's failures on immigration.
That bill, though, passed in the Senate by a 68-32 vote, including votes by Rubio and 13 other Republicans, but stalled in the House when Republican leaders refused a vote on it.
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