'Time has come' for immigration reform: Obama

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama said on Monday the time has come to reform America's "broken" immigration policy, renewing his appeal to lawmakers to clinch a deal that he said is now within reach.

At a swearing-in ceremony at the White House for a group of new US citizens, Mr Obama praised a bipartisan push in Congress for immigration reform, but prodded both parties to finish the job.

"We've known for years our immigration system is broken, that we're not doing enough to harness the talent and ingenuity of those that want to work hard and find a place here in America," Mr Obama said.

"And after avoiding the problem for years, the time has come to fix it once and for all. The time has come for a comprehensive, sensible immigration reform," he said.

The US president, who returned on Saturday from a four-day trip to the Middle East, said he wanted to see Congress debate a bill next month.

"We are making progress. But we've got to finish the job because this issue is not new. Everyone pretty much knows what's broken, everybody knows how to fix it," said Mr Obama.

The US president issued his call for action during a ceremony for 28 newly-minted Americans, who took their oath of citizenship in the east room of the White House.

"In each of you, we see the true spirit of America. And we see a bit of ourselves, too, because most of our stories trace back to moments just like this one," he said.

Long-stalled immigration reform efforts gained momentum after the November elections, in which Mr Obama won re-election with overwhelming support from Hispanic voters.

Mr Obama has courted Republican leaders on the issue and a group of senators from both parties are poised to wrap up an agreement on a proposed law that would bring 11 million undocumented migrants out of the shadows.

The senators say their plan would offer a pathway to eventual citizenship, taking up to 13 years or more, for millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States.

The plan would also include steps to better secure US borders and the introduction of an employee verification programme.

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