Obama: "Time Is Now" to Pass Immigration Reform

"We all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship," he said. "It won't be a quick process, but it will be a fair process."

White House officials made it clear before the speech that the president is withholding judgment on the Senate's plan until actual legislative language is drafted.

Obama did say that the government "needs to stay focused on enforcement" and any immigration reform bill should crack down on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants with stiffer fines and penalties.

But the president's stance on a path to citizenship did not satisfy all Republicans working on an immigration reform plan.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement he is, "concerned by the president's unwillingness to accept significant enforcement triggers before current undocumented immigrants can apply for a green card."

Earlier in the day on conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh's show, Rubio implied that he could abandon any agreement that does not mandate border security enhancements.

"I am not going to be part of a bidding war of who can create the most lenient path forward," he said.

According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the president also supports granting gays and lesbians the ability to "seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner" who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Under current law, that provision only applies to heterosexual couples. The president did not mention the policy during his speech.

A temporary, guest-worker program also did not appear in Obama's speech or fact sheet. Business groups and Republicans have called for the implementation of such a program for agricultural industries and other companies that rely on low-skilled immigrant labor. But labor unions have been hesistant to support such programs without strong labor protections.

Obama has drawn criticism from lawmakers in both political parties and Latino groups for failing to bring up a comprehensive immigration reform bill in his first term along while piling up record deportation numbers. But the president was received very warmly by the crowd inside Del Sol High School's gymnasium. They chanted "sí se puede!" during the speech.

There is no doubt the changing political landscape has sparked momentum for comprehensive immigration reform. In last November's election, seven in 10 Latino voters backed Obama over Republican Mitt Romney, helping him win battleground states like Nevada, where the president spoke today.

But Obama said that immigration reform is about more than politics.

"Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It's about people. It's about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story. And throughout our history, that's only made our nation stronger," he said.

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