By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN
(CNN) - In his first major news conference since March, President Barack Obama expressed confidence in passing immigration reform in his second term.
"You're starting to see a sense of empowerment and civic participation (among Latinos) that I think is going to be powerful and good for the country," he said. "And it is why I'm very confident that we can get immigration reform done."
In response to a question from Telemundo reporter Lori Montenegro, the president spoke about increased Latino voter turnout, the DREAM Act and border security.
Read his full answer in the excerpt below. You can also read the full transcript of the news conference here.
Montenegro: On immigration reform, the criticism in the past has been that you did not put forth legislation with specific ideas and send it up to the Hill. This time around, you have said again that this will be one of the top priorities for a second term. Will you, then, send legislation to the Hill? And exactly what do you envision is broad immigration reform? Does that include a legalization program?
And also, what lessons, if any, did Democrats learn from this last election and the Latino vote?
Obama: Well, I think what was incredibly encouraging was to see a significant increase in Latino turnout. This is the fastest-growing group in the country and, you know, historically what you've seen is Latino vote - vote at lower rates than the broader population. And that's beginning to change.
You're starting to see a sense of empowerment and civic participation that I think is going to be powerful and good for the country. And it is why I'm very confident that we can get immigration reform done. Before the election, I had given a couple of interviews where I predicted that Latino vote was going to be strong and that that would cause some reflection on the part of Republicans about their position on immigration reform. I think we're starting to see that already.
I think that's a positive sign. This has not historically been a partisan issue. We've had President (George W.) Bush and John McCain and others who have supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past. So, we need to seize the moment.
And my expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration. ...
And, in fact, some conversations I think are already beginning to take place among senators and congressmen and my staff about what would this look like. And when I say comprehensive immigration reform, it's very similar to the outlines of previous immigration reform. I think it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we've taken. Because we have to secure our border. I think it should contain serious penalties for companies that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and - and taking advantage of them.
And I do think that there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here to - simply to work. I've - it's important for them to pay back taxes. It's important for them to learn English. It's important for them to potentially pay a fine, but to give them the avenue whereby they can resolve their legal status here in this country, I think is very important. Obviously making sure that we put into law what - the first step that we've taken administratively dealing with the DREAM Act kids is very important as well.
The one thing that I'm – I'm very clear about is that young people who are brought here through no fault of their own, who have gone to school here, pledged allegiance to our flag, want to serve in our military, want to go to school and contribute to our society, that they shouldn't be under the cloud of deportation. That we should give them every opportunity to earn their citizenship. And so, you know there are other components to it, obviously. The business community continues to be concerned about getting enough high-skilled workers.
And I am a believer that if you've got a Ph.D. in physics, or computer science who wants to stay here, and start a business here, we shouldn't make it harder for them to stay here, we should try to encourage him to contribute to this society. I think that the agricultural sector, obviously has very specific concerns about making sure that they've got a work force that helps deliver food to our table. So they're gonna be a bunch of components to it, but I think whatever process we have needs to make sure border security's strong, needs to deal with employers effectively, needs to provide a pathway for the undocumented here, needs to deal with the DREAM Act kids.
And I think that's something that we can get done.