Obama told a cheering crowd in Las Vegas it's time to fix "an immigration system that's out of date and badly broken."
The president said the principles he would be advancing had three prongs: tighter border security; helping the 11 million illegal aliens currently in the United States earn citizenship and bringing "our immigration system into the 21st century. You shouldn't have to wait years to join your family here in America."
Obama appeared to be letting Congress take the lead. But if Congress delays action, Obama said he will send up his own bill to Congress "and insist they act on it right away."
U.S. Sen.Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., one of eight senators who have put together their own reform initiative, praised Obama's use of a "bully pulpit."
"The president is handling this perfectly," Schumer said. "He is using the bully pulpit to focus the nation's attention on the urgency of immigration reform and set goals for action on this issue. But he is also giving lawmakers on both sides the space to form a bipartisan coalition."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement: "President Barack Obama was elected this fall with several mandates, but voters spoke with particular clarity on one issue: the need to support the aspirations of 11 million immigrants to become citizens. That's why we applaud President Obama's eloquent and thoughtful embrace of immigration reform, including a viable path to citizenship for those who are American in every way except on paper.
Trumka said Obama "gets it -- he gets that a rising tide lifts all boats and that empowering immigrant workers is a win for all working people. The president clearly shares the AFL-CIO's commitment to a viable pathway to citizenship, meaning that seemingly innocuous conditions cannot be allowed to get in the way of a road map for citizenship that encompasses the dreams of 11 million people. ...
"But hope is not a plan. That's why America's unions are undertaking a national campaign to ensure that Congress passes a genuinely comprehensive plan in 2013."
The American Civil Liberties Union in Washington issued its own statement.
"The president's plan to work with Congress on a road map to citizenship is a clear indication that addressing our country's immigration problems is a top priority of his second term," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU. "While there are components of the Senate plan that provide millions of aspiring citizens the legal status they deserve to live, work, and raise their families free of fear, others, such as mandating E-Verify and continued wasteful and unnecessary spending on the border, raise serious civil liberties concerns."