Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama continued his push for immigration reform Thursday, calling the need for change an economic, security and moral imperative both for "millions of people who live in the shadows" and for the country as a whole.
This is a subject that can "expose our raw feelings," Obama told an audience at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. But we need to "show empathy to our brothers and sisters and try to recognize ourselves in one another."
"Our heritage as a nation of immigrants is part of what has always made America strong," he said.
Obama renewed debate on the perennial hot-button political issue during a speech earlier in the week in El Paso, Texas. Liberals and conservatives are at sharp odds over how to deal with the country's roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants.
It is time to "make comprehensive immigration reform the law of the land," the president declared Friday. "I'll keep pushing and working with Congress," he promised, but there needs to be a "widespread movement" for change.
Republicans remain largely opposed to any comprehensive reform until there is tighter border security. Administration officials insist they have made major strides in securing the country's southern border.
While few observers expect congressional movement on the issue -- particularly in light of the GOP capture of the House of Representatives -- it remains politically powerful. Obama won several Western states in 2008 -- including Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada -- partly on the rising power of the Latino vote. Democrats believe Hispanic voters might put traditionally Republican Arizona in play next year.
In the long run, Democrats are also hoping to use their advantage among Hispanics to make inroads in core GOP states such as Texas.
For their part, Republicans have depended on the immigration issue in the past to fire up conservative voters. Some analysts also believe that if Democrats push too hard, too fast on immigration, particularly in tough economic times, it could push swing voters toward the GOP.