President Obama: Path to Citizenship 'Needs to Be' in Immigration Bill

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-07_f4850a4c64.jpgChip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Obama on Tuesday insisted he's not backing down from his top demand on immigration reform -- a pathway to citizenship for those already here illegally. Immigration reform faces a rough ride in the House, where GOP leaders have resisted taking up a Senate-passed bill that accomplishes Obama's goal of allowing undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship.

Republicans are split over what to do with unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., but the president cautioned them against passing anything short of a path to full citizenship.

"It needs to be a part of the bill," Obama said in an interview with Univision's New York affiliate WXTV.

Republicans have floated numerous possibilities in addressing the undocumented population, including a plan to offer them legal status, but they haven't embraced the idea of citizenship. Obama indicated that anything short of citizenship could leave millions of undocumented immigrants in a state of legal limbo.

"You don't want after having done immigration reform to still have a situation in which millions of people are threatened with deportation, millions of people are operating in the shadows, businesses are still taking advantage of undocumented workers to pay low wages that depress American wages generally," Obama added.

House Republicans are taking a slow, piece-by-piece approach to addressing immigration reform. Key members have said not to expect votes in the House before the August recess, meaning that Congress will not accomplish Obama's goal of passing a bill by summer.

But the president said he is still "cautiously optimistic" about the chances of immigration reform becoming law.

"[In Washington], things move more slowly than you like. It's always more difficult than you like," he said. "If you stay with it, eventually the right thing gets done."

House Republicans have balked on immigration in part because they believe the Senate bill in part because they don't believe it goes far enough on border security and they don't "trust" Obama to secure the border. The president pointed to the buildup of border resources under his administration, but said he's willing to go ever farther to meet Republican demands.

Obama has said before, however, that he won't support a "enforcement trigger" that would block a path to citizenship.

"We can always do more," he said in a separate interview with Univision's Los Angeles affiliate KMEX. "I mean there's never an inclination on the part of my administration not to take very seriously the issue of border security. I think we have to do it smart."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio