Christie changes immigration stance, pulls support for pathway to citizenship

Washington CNN  — 

Likely presidential hopeful Chris Christie said that he has changed his position on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, becoming the latest Republican to recast their stance on one of the thorniest issues they’ll face during the 2016 election.

The New Jersey governor said Monday that he does not support possible citizenship for the immigrants, calling it an “extreme way to go.” In 2010, the newly-elected Republican encouraged leaders in Washington to secure the border but also to “put forward a common sense path to citizenship for people.” Since then, he has often avoided discussing the issue entirely.

In an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News, Christie changed his tune.

“I think I’ve learned over time about this issue and done a lot more work on it,” he said. “Back in 2010, I was in my first couple months as governor. I’ve now learned some of the ramifications for all these things.”

Christie explained that he still believed the country needed to deal with the current immigration problem, but that Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s proposed path to citizenship amounted to “pandering” and was “not based upon an educated study of the issue.”

If elected president, Christie said, he would immediately roll back President Barack Obama’s executive order shielding some immigrants from deportation.

Christie did not say what precisely his plan would be to address the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to currently live in the United States. Yet he has also not launched his presidential campaign, which he is expected to do in the coming months.

Many of Christie’s rivals for the Republican nomination have struggled to articulate what they would do with the current immigrants already here. GOP leaders, facing an increasingly diverse electorate, have encouraged the party to adopt a more accomodating tone on issues important to Latino voters, but the Republican base is deeply skeptical of any presidential aspirants who embrace what is derided as “amnesty.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida once pushed for a possible pathway to citizenship as part of a comprehensive immigration bill, but he now has distanced himself from his own legislation. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said that his view on the issue had changed, but he has still reportedly told some potential supporters that he could support citizenship.

Christie’s candid admission comes as he focuses his imperiled presidential ambitions on New Hampshire, which tends to elevate more moderate GOP candidates.