President Barack Obama expects that an immigration reform bill will be introduced shortly after his inauguration, saying Wednesday that "we need to seize the moment" and tackle the issue.
At his first news conference since winning re-election, Obama laid out the elements that he wants in a comprehensive immigration reform bill. This includes addressing border security, enforcement measures for businesses that employ undocumented immigrants, and the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., including young people seeking a college degree or military service ("DREAMers").
"I am very confident we can get immigration reform done," he said.
The president voiced support for a "pathway to legal status" for undocumented immigrants not engaged in criminal activity and who are "here simply to work." That process would involve paying back taxes, learning English, and potentially paying fines. The White House later clarified those who go through the process of earning legal status would eventually be eligible for citizenship.
"To give them the avenue whereby they can resolve their legal status here in this country, I think is very important," the president said.
Momentum on immigration legislation has quickly escalated since Obama was reelected, partly because Latino voters who strongly favor reform make up a key component of his winning coalition.
Obama said that lawmakers are beginning to discuss immigration and that members of his staff are beginning to get involved in the talks.
The president cited the increase in Latino turnout in last week's election as the reason for his optimism, adding that the election result should cause Republicans who have largely opposed immigration reform for the past half decade to reconsider their position.
"I think we're starting to see that already. I think that's a positive sign," he said. "This has not historically been a partisan issue."
Latino voters backed Obama 71-27 percent, according to national exit polls, the biggest margin since 1996. Latinos made up 10 percent of the national electorate for the first time ever, helping Obama achieve victory in key battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.
Seventy-four percent of Latino voters said in exit polling they back a proposal that would allow employed undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, a majority of Americans said they back a path to legal status.
The president said that he also wants his deferred action program that prevents DREAMers brought here by their parents passed into law and he endorsed a pathway to citizenship for those young undocumented immigrants.
But Obama's assurances on immigration might ring hollow for many Latino voters and immigration advocates, since Obama pledged in 2008 that he would push a sweeping immigration bill during his first year in the White House.
Reform groups urged swift action on a bill following the presidents remarks.
"Based on the president's statement today, it is increasing clear that immigration reform should be the first bipartisan legislative priority in 2013," Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement.
This story was updated at 5:10 P.M.