House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) urged her colleagues to act on comprehensive immigration reform on the first day of the 113th Congress, where immigration is expected to take center stage.
During opening remarks of the new Congress on Thursday afternoon, the California Democrat said the issue would be a priority for the nation's top lawmakers.
"By and large, the United States is a nation of immigrants," Pelosi said. "Built, enriched and strengthened by men, women and children who share our patriotism and seek the American dream. The strength of our democracy will be advanced by bold action for comprehensive immigration reform."
"We must empower the voters," she added. "We must remove obstacles to participation in our democracy for all Americans."
Newly re-elected House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is tasked with directing the agenda for the lower chamber, made no mention of immigration in his speech.
He instead focused on job growth and improving the economy, and tackling the national debt. The visibly emotional Boehner did not reference immigration or gun laws, two issues Obama has put at the top of his domestic agenda for 2013.
Obama has again promised comprehensive immigration reform in his first year, which he failed to bring up during his first term despite a 2008 pledge to take up the issue during his first year in office. The White House reaffirmed this week that it would move forward with a proposal on immigration reform this month despite the fact lawmakers will have to address lingering issues like the debt limit in the next two months.
The president, meanwhile, has tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading a task force to propose changes to the nation's gun laws in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings.
Although Boehner did not mention immigration, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington), referenced the issue as one that Congress would tackle during her speech nominating Boehner for a second term as speaker.
Immigration draws forceful responses from both sides of the aisle, and the issue is sure to spark contentious debate as battle lines take shape. While immigration players such as Rep. Luis Guiterrez (D-Illinois) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) support a path to citizenship for undocumented workers in the country, others, such as Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, do not.
Hammering out a bill that will have the approval of enough Republicans and Democrats is going to take compromise. While the last Congress was somewhat infamous for its seeming inability to do that - lawmakers failed to reach a fiscal cliff deal until the very last minute - this new batch of representatives and senators, which includes more Latinos than ever before, has a chance with immigration to prove it can facilitate real change.