"Those things aren't contradictory, they're complementary," Mr. Obama said at the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. "That's why I'm committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform."
He said the United States should strengthen its border security and also "clarify the status of miillions who are here illegally."
Those who wish to become citizens should be required to pay a penalty, learn English, and get to the back of the line behind those who came here by the rules, he said.
"We must never forget the promise of America has been renewed by immigrants who make their story part of the American story," Mr. Obama said.
The president began his remarks by greeting the audience with "buenas dias," and praising the "genius" of America's founders for protecting the freedom of religion.
"As I look out on this audience, I'm reminded of the power of faith in America," he said. "Faith in God and... in this great country."
He said he and and his Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor have benefitted from the opportunities afforded in the United States.
"While I may be the first African-American president, there's nothing unique about the opportunities this country gave to me," he said. "It's the story of a young girl who could rise from a housing project to be nominated to the highest court in the land. I am confident it's a story that will some day be told by the first Hispanic president."