"That is why I'm committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform," he said during an address to the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast sponsored by Esperanza, a Hispanic religious coalition.
The American people believe in immigration but "we cannot tolerate" illegal entry or people seeking to exploit undocumented workers to lower wages, the president said.
People already in the United States illegally must pay penalties and taxes, learn English "and go to the back of the line behind those who followed the rules," Obama said. "It's a fair, practical way to move forward."
Obama also discussed the power of prayer, saying it was "more than a last resort. Prayer helps us search for meaning in our own lives."
While U.S. citizens "come from many different places," Obama said, "all of us pray to God. All of us share a determination to build a better future for our children and grandchildren."
"We also know that keeping this promise means upholding America's tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," Obama said, in voicing his commitment to immigration reform. "Those things aren't contradictory; they're complementary."