US President Barack Obama invited key lawmakers to the White House on Thursday to initiate a debate on the immigration laws that has long stalled in the US Congress.
Reforming US immigration laws involves shoring up the country's borders and dealing with about 12 million illegal immigrants. The talks had failed twice to get off the ground during former president George W Bush's term.
Obama said his administration stood "fully behind" a fresh effort for the achievement of comprehensive immigration reform. But with the US stuck in a recession and other domestic priorities crowding the legislative calendar, he did not offer a specific timeframe to get something approved.
"We've got a responsible set of leaders around the table who want to actively get something done," Obama said after meeting 30 lawmakers from both political parties.
Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland Security, would head the new "leadership group" of the government and both houses of Congress to hammer out a solution to the impasse.
Pro-immigration groups had been frustrated after Obama used his first months on the job to focus on other key priorities, including the ailing economy, health care, energy and foreign policy challenges.
The White House gathering had been delayed twice this month. This is the first on immigration since Obama took office in January. It was billed as the "opening bell" in a new immigration battle.
Much of the debate in Congress has centred on whether or not illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the US and be offered a path towards citizenship.