WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was prepared to back a deal that would provide a pathway to citizenship to America's so-called "Dreamer" immigrants over a period of 10 to 12 years.
The latest approach by the White House suggests a key development in negotiations over some 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, and face deportation as early as March.
"We are going to morph into it," Trump told reporters about the citizenship provision. "It's going to happen, at some point in the future, over a period of 10 to 12 years."
US lawmakers have struggled for months to negotiate a compromise over the status of the Dreamers. An impasse over the issue, a source of bitter partisan tension in Washington, recently shut down the government for three days.
In reaching a deal to resume federal operations, the Senate's Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Congress would aim to negotiate an immigration agreement by February 8, and if a deal is not struck by then, the issue would be taken up in debate on the Senate floor.
Although Trump did not provide details on the pathway to citizenship, his comments are perhaps the most telling sign that a broader deal might be within reach.
They came just hours after the White House announced it will release a "legislative framework" for immigration reform on Monday that is acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans.
"After decades of inaction by Congress, it's time we work together to solve this issue once and for all," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told journalists.
"The White House will release a legislative framework on Monday that represents a compromise that members of both parties can support," which is based on "dozens" of meetings with Republican and Democratic leadership and legislators, she said.
The plan would fulfill "four agreed-upon pillars" of immigration reform, she added: border security, curbing extended family reunification known as "chain migration," cancelling the green-card visa lottery, and providing a permanent solution on DACA.
The first three pillars are largely Republican priorities, while the last -- fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- is a cause championed by the Democrats.
DACA, which was instituted by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama in 2012, protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children.
Trump said in September he was scrapping DACA, throwing the future of those it covers into doubt, but delayed enforcement to give Congress until March to craft a lasting solution.
Democrats unsuccessfully sought to tie a solution to the DACA issue to a stop-gap measure to fund the federal government, but Republicans rejected the effort, leading to a shutdown from Saturday to Monday.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican pointman on the immigration negotiations, hailed Trump's comments as a major breakthrough.
"With this strong statement by President Trump, I have never felt better about our chances of finding a solution on immigration," Graham said in a statement.
Trump's "support for a pathway to citizenship will help us get strong border security measures as we work to modernize a broken immigration system."
Trump's remarks signified key movement in a debate that appeared to stall Tuesday after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer withdrew an offer to fund a wall that Trump wants constructed on the US border with Mexico.
Schumer had reportedly offered as much as $25 billion for the wall, which was among the most prominent planks of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, as part of an immigration deal.
When Trump rejected that deal, Schumer pulled the offer.
"Cryin' Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no Wall, there is no DACA," Trump tweeted late Tuesday.
"We must have safety and security, together with a strong Military, for our great people!"
© Agence France-Presse