Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are discussing ways to fix an immigration system officials across party lines describe as "broken."
Those who testified Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee included immigrants, immigration experts and the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Julian Castro, who delivered the keynote address at the Democrats' presidential nominating convention in September.
At the start of the hearing, Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the House's immigration subcommittee, urged his colleagues to act to "harmonize" two precepts: humanity and respect for the rule of law. He said U.S. citizens will be watching.
"They will be watching, skeptically, to see if we are serious about enforcing the rule of law," said Gowdy. "Are we serious about ending the insidious practice of human trafficking? Are we serious about punishing those who prey on folks with false promises and fraudulent documents? Are we serious about border security and employment verification? Are we serious about making this the last 'last time' we have this conversation, or are we simply playing political games with people's lives and undercutting the respect for the rule of law, which ironically is the very reason they seek to come to this country in the first place? We shall see."
U.S. President Barack Obama was also discussing immigration reform Tuesday, holding separate meetings at the White House with labor and business leaders.
Last week in Las Vegas, Nevada, Mr. Obama said "now is the time" for "common-sense" reform to settle the status of the 11-million people estimated to be living in the country illegally.
He unveiled his goals for a new law, including smarter and stronger border enforcement, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and improvement of the legal immigration system to attract the world's "best and brightest" people to the United States.
The president's speech came after a group of Democratic and Republican senators offered a set of proposed immigration reforms.
Under the bipartisan plan, illegal immigrants would register with the government, pass background checks, pay any fines and taxes they still owe and complete other steps to earn "probationary" status that would allow them to live and work in the United States legally.
The plan would include exceptions for children who entered the United States with their parents and were educated in the country, and for agricultural workers who play a role in maintaining the nation's food supply.
The new plan also would tighten enforcement of immigration regulations, with a requirement for employers to verify the workers they hire can legally work in the U.S.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, one of the members of the bipartisan group, says lawmakers have an obligation to address the situation of those in the country illegally while also treating fairly those seeking citizenship through legal channels.