President Barack Obama says he is committed to working with Congress to pass comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system. The president discussed the issue in the White House Thursday with lawmakers from both parties.
President Obama says there are some differences about how to make immigration reform work, but he believes all sides agree that the system is broken and needs fixing.
"What I am encouraged by is that after all the overheated rhetoric and the occasional demagoguery on all sides around this issue, we have got a responsible set of leaders sitting around the table who want to actively get something done," he said.
The president met with 30 lawmakers and several administration officials to discuss ways to improve immigration policy. He says they agreed that the U.S. should tighten its borders, crack down on employers who use illegal workers to drive down wages, and recognize and legalize undocumented workers already in the country.
Mr. Obama also announced an effort to make the immigration and naturalization process more efficient.
"Anybody who has dealt with families who are trying to navigate the immigration system, this is going to save them huge amounts of time standing in line, waiting around, making phone calls and being put on hold," he said.
The president says his administration has processed most of the pending immigration background checks and accelerated the processing of citizenship petitions.
He also says one of the most difficult areas of immigration reform is dealing with the large number of people who are in the U.S. illegally.
"The 12 million or so undocumented workers are here, who are not paying taxes in the ways that we would like them to be paying taxes, who are living in the shadows," he said. "That is a group that we have to deal with in a practical, common-sense way. I think the American people are ready for us to do so."
After meeting with the lawmakers, Mr. Obama specifically praised Republican Senator John McCain, whom he defeated in last year's presidential election. McCain, who represents the border state of Arizona, which has a large Hispanic population, has been one of the leading voices calling for immigration reform. The president said McCain has paid a significant political cost for doing the right thing.