BY BEN KAMISAR - 04/24/17 01:33 PM EDT

Former President Obama lamented how “passion and sometimes misinformation” have distracted from solving the problem of immigration reform as he addressed college students during his first public appearance since leaving office.

Obama argued that surveys show that Americans believe immigration is beneficial but that many are frustrated when people take advantage of the immigration system. There's a solution that meets both sides, Obama said, but it will take work.

“It's important for those who support, like I do, immigration reform and pathways to citizenship for those who are here not to assume everyone who has trouble with the current immigration system is automatically a racist,” he said during a roundtable Monday at the University of Chicago

“And for those of us who are concerned about undocumented workers coming in, whether it’s across the border or more typically, these days, overstaying visas, it’s also important for them to also appreciate the degree to which these are overwhelmingly families just looking for a better life for their children.”

During Obama's initial presidential campaign, he called for comprehensive immigration reform. But an attempt to pass a bipartisan plan fell short in 2013, when the House refused to take up a bill that passed through the Senate that year.

Obama then created through executive action the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allows certain immigrants brought to the United States as children to stay and work in the country.

Obama attempted extend that program toward the end of his term, but courts struck that expansion down.