In this file photo, then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (right) is seen with then Vice President Al Gore as President Bill Clinton gives a State of the Union address. (The Washington Post)

Former House speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), in a new interview with The Wall Street Journal, says Republicans should support a new path to legalization for illegal immigrants.

“We need to give these people legal status," Hastert said. “They live here. They work here. They raise families here. We need to recognize that they’re here.”

The former speaker, who left office in 2007, did not say that there should be a new path to citizenship.

Hastert, who was speaker the last time there was a major push for an immigration overhaul, said the issue is more politically pressing for Republicans now.

“Why alienate a large voting bloc of American people?” he said.

Hastert also gave some cover to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), saying a speaker should avoid allowing a vote on something that doesn't have the support of a majority of House Republicans -- a rule that has been dubbed the "Hastert Rule."

House Republicans are still considering their way forward on immigration. They have promised to propose a series of smaller bills rather than one large comprehensive bill. The big question from there is how they address those who are already in the country illegally -- if at all.

Update 12:28 p.m.: According to a release, Hastert is joining a group called the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition that calls for, among other things, "a path to citizenship for many."