Trump is open to legal status for some undocumented immigrants in sharp departure from campaign stance

The cost of deportation

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is open to legal status for some undocumented immigrants and may call for a compromise immigration bill in his speech to a joint session of Congress.

"The time is right for an immigration bill if both sides are willing to compromise," Trump told reporters.

It is not clear what exactly Trump would want to see in the bill or that he would definitely seek new legislation. Still, his remark signals a stark shift from the crackdown on illegal immigration he promised on the campaign trail and has sought through his actions as president so far.

Trump said he would be open to legal status for undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes. They would not need to leave the country first.

Donald Trump
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Trump decried illegal immigration on the campaign trail and in the early days of his presidency, arguing it reduces economic opportunity for Americans and increases crime. Pledges to take a hard line on immigration separated him from many competitors during his then-unlikely run through a crowded Republican primary field.

Since taking office, he has signed orders directing the construction of a wall on the United States-Mexico border and the hiring of more federal agents for immigration enforcement, among other actions.

Previous efforts for an immigration compromise bill that would offer undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship have stalled in Congress. Passing such a bill with Republicans controlling Congress and the White House could also prove challenging, depending on what exactly it entails.

Trump's call for legislation Tuesday would come ahead of his expected Wednesday signing of a new executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries due to terrorism concerns. Federal courts suspended a previous version of the order, which prompted nationwide confusion and criticism from many Democrats and civil rights groups.

— NBC News contributed to this report