The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing testimony about immigration reform, hours after President Barack Obama called for immigration reform in his State of the Union address to Congress.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told senatorsmany changes need to be made and sustained for comprehensive reform. She said our immigration system is "broken" and "hurting our country."
"Our immigration system is not working," she said. "Our communities, workers and employers are all frustrated by a system that treats a drug smuggler the same as a high-achieving student."
Napolitano's testimony was interrupted by screaming protesters who entered the chamber with signs that said "No more deportation." Police quickly restored order in the room.
Others testifying include Jose Antonio Vargas, the founder of Define American, and Chris Crane, the president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council.
Latino activists have criticized Obama for failing to make immigration reform a priority of his first term.
Last month, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a plan under which illegal immigrants would register with the government, pass a background check, pay fines and back taxes, and complete other steps to earn a probationary status to legally live and work in the United States. They would then be placed at the back of the line for those seeking a so-called green card as a permanent legal resident.
The plan includes exceptions for those who entered the country as children, as well as for agricultural workers who play a role in maintaining the nation's food supply.