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Obama presses Congress to act quickly on immigration reform

U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington after a trip to Israel, Mar
U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington after a trip to Israel, Mar

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged Congress on Monday to summon the "political courage" to quickly pass immigration reform.

Speaking at a naturalization ceremony for 28 new U.S. citizens at the White House, Obama said he was pleased with steps made toward reforming immigration laws, he wants the process to be complete within months.

"I expect a bill to be put forward. I expect the debate to begin next month," he said. "I want to sign that bill into law as soon as possible."

Obama pointed to the accomplishments of many of the 28 people who had just become U.S. citizens and said immigrants had reinvigorated the labor force and benefited businesses.

"If we want to keep attracting the best and brightest the world has to offer, we need to do a better job of welcoming them," he said.

Reforms making it easier for undocumented foreigners to become citizens have gained momentum in Congress since Hispanic voters overwhelmingly supported Obama in November's presidential election. Recent polls show strong support for creating a way for undocumented foreigners to become U.S. citizens.

Congress is on two-week recess but is expected to look more closely at immigration and other domestic issues after being consumed for weeks with budget matters.

A group of eight Democratic and Republican senators is working on a plan that would create a 10- or 15-year process that leads to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

The path to citizenship may be called a path to a "green card" to soften opposition among Republicans, although Senate aides have characterized that as a semantic distinction.

The so-called green card - which is no longer green - allows a foreigner to live and work in the United States and ultimately to apply for citizenship.

Lawmakers are trying to produce a bill by next month. A Senate vote could be held in June or July. One obstacle is the divide between business and labor organizations over how to manage the flow of unskilled labor into the United States.

Obama urged lawmakers to push through to a conclusion.

"We've got to finish the job, because this issue is not new," he said. "We've just got, at this point, to work up the political courage to do what's required to be done."

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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