"We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants," he said, while speaking at a high school with a majority Hispanic population.
"The good news is that -- for the first time in many years -- Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together," he said, alluding to the bipartisan effort put forth by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D), John McCain (R), Dick Durbin (D), Marco Rubio (R), and Robert Menendez (D) on Monday.
The blueprint is also backed by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
"We can't allow immigration reform to get bogged down in endless debate," Obama said. The crowd cheered when he said, "If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal."
Obama stressed three important points to immigration reform: strengthening enforcement, creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the US and reforming legal immigration.
"The closer we get, the more emotional this issue is going to become," he warned.
"It's easy for the discussion to take on an 'us vs. them' feeling," he said. "It's easy for us to forget that 'us' used to be 'them.' Unless you were a Native American, you came from some place else."
"The huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other coast… all those folks, before they were 'us,' they were 'them.'" said Obama. "They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule."
"They did their part to build the nation," he said. "What makes someone American is not just blood or birth, but allegiance to our founding principles."
"This is not just a debate about policy. It's about people."