"I'm here today because the time has come for common sense comprehensive immigration reform," Mr. Obama declared at a campaign-style event in Las Vegas. He spoke at a high school where half the student body is Latino.
Mr. Obama failed to press the issue during his first four years in office, but he has made it one of the top legislative priorities of his second term.
"We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. That's who we are in our bones," the president said. "A call to action can now be heard all across America."
Hispanics are becoming an increasingly powerful political force. During the November presidential election, Mr. Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, forcing Republican lawmakers to reconsider immigration reform.
Mr. Obama said differences between the parties are dwindling, and Congress is showing "a genuine desire to get this done soon."
The event comes a day after a bipartisan group of senators unveiled their own plan for addressing immigration. The separate White House and Senate proposals focus on the same principles: providing a way for most of the estimated 11 million people already in the U.S. illegally to become citizens, strengthening border security, cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and streamlining the legal immigration system.
Details on how to achieve a pathway to citizenship still could prove to be a major sticking point between the White House and the Senate group, which is comprised of eight lawmakers - four Democrats and four Republicans.
The administration does not want to link the path to citizenship to border enforcement.
"I think a lot of people agree, if we don't secure the borders first, we're just going to be dealing with this problem in another decade," said Alexis Garcia, a political producer at PJTV, a conservative online network.
Several immigrant groups held a rally in downtown Los Angeles. They watched the president's speech but demand a fast path to citizenship.
"They want to give us a very long line, put us all the way at the end of the line to apply for citizenship after we've been here 15 years, 20 years, that is not enough," said immigration activist Leslie Ocegueda.
Passage of immigration legislation by the full Democratic-controlled Senate is far from assured, but the tallest hurdle could come in the House, which is dominated by conservative Republicans who have shown little interest in immigration reform.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.