(CNN) - President Obama on Friday reiterated his commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform, telling a Hispanic audience that the country must be guided by the principle "love thy neighbor as thy self."
"The American people believe in immigration, but they also believe that we can't tolerate a situation where people come to the United States in violation of the law," Obama said before the eighth annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
"Nor can we tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to bring down wages," he told the crowd at the breakfast, which was sponsored by Esperanza, the largest Hispanic faith-based evangelical network in the country.
Obama said the "fair, practical and promising way forward" is by strengthening border security, clarifying the status of those who are here illegally, and requiring illegal immigrants to pay a penalty and taxes, learn English and go to the back of the line for citizenship.
"Like some of you, I am the son of a parent who came to these shores in search of a better future," Obama said. "I could count on the basic promise, that no matter what you look like or where you come from, America will let you go as far as your dreams and your hard work will carry you. That promise is at the heart of the American story.
The president said that's the same story of every child who has the opportunity to go farther in life than their parents were able to go, and the "story of a young girl who could rise from a housing project, to be nominated for the highest court in land."
Obama last month nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would become the first Hispanic justice on the high court.
While the nomination was well-received in the Hispanic community, the president has yet to tackle immigration reform.
Before Obama took the stage, Rev. Jose Eugenio Hoyos delivered what was called a prayer for immigrant families. He asked for blessings for Obama and calls for immigration reform. Speaking to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the president, Hoyos expressed his belief that deportation tears apart families. He told them the Hispanic community wants to see immigration addressed now.
While immigration reform is a top priority for the president's first term, the nation's economic woes top his list of domestic priorities. "The president has consistently said that he wants to start the discussion later this year because our immigration system is broken..." White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said earlier this year, "but the economy comes first."