WASHINGTON, April 23 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama used the backdrop of a naturalization ceremony Friday to urge the overhaul of U.S. immigration policy.
Speaking in the Rose Garden where 24 active-duty U.S. service members from more than a dozen countries became Americans, Obama said their efforts to earn their citizenship is a reminder "of how we must remain both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws."
"This includes fixing America's broken immigration system," he said.
The president said that while disagreements have gone on for years, "surely we can all agree that when 11 million people in our country are living here illegally, outside the system, that's unacceptable."
He called for "common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform grounded in the principles of responsibility and accountability."
He said his administration is working to strengthen border security and that businesses that "ignore the law and exploit and abuse vulnerable workers and try to gain an unfair advantage" over law-abiding businesses will be held accountable.
"And people who are in America illegally have a responsibility -- to pay their back taxes and admit responsibility for breaking the law, pay a penalty, learn English, pass criminal background checks, and get right with the law -- or face removal -- before they can get in line and eventually earn their citizenship," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has given Democratic and Republican point men three weeks to reach bipartisan agreement on immigration reform aides said.
Aides told The Washington Post Thursday that Reid, D-Nev., told Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., if they can't get it done by then, Democrats will forge ahead with their own bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has agreed to bring immigration legislation up for a vote before the congressional elections in November if the Senate acts, the aides told the Post.
Obama thanked Schumer and Graham for working to reach a bipartisan consensus and said he hopes the 11 Republican senators who voted to pass reform legislation four years ago can be counted on to do so again.
But Graham appears to have recently backed off reform proposals on the table, Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both R-Ariz., are threatening to filibuster any legislation that doesn't deal with border security first, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in a statement that with unemployment near 10 percent, "there is little enthusiasm in Congress to pass legislation that would legalize millions of unlawful residents."