President Barack Obama said Tuesday that if the U.S. Congress does not act quickly on immigration reform, he will send his own proposal that guarantees "a fair process" for undocumented immigrants "to earn their way" toward legalization and citizenship.

Obama used a speech in Las Vegas to lay out a plan that includes strengthening border security, a clear path to legalization and citizenship, plus penalties for companies that knowingly hire those in the country illegally.

Obama said that whoever wishes to take advantage of the legislation must have his or her criminal record checked, pay a fine and back taxes, learn English and go "to the back of the line, behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally."

The president acknowledged that immigration has always caused great divisions, but believes immigration reform "is within our grasp."

"(T)hese 11 million men and women are now here," Obama said. "They're woven into the fabric of our lives."

He pointed out that immigrants contributed to the founding of companies like Intel, Google and Yahoo, and that immigrants are behind one out of every four new technology companies.

Obama defended the achievements of his first administration in strengthening security on the southern border, with more agents on the ground and a drop in illegal crossings of almost 80 percent compared with the year 2000.

The proposals outlined by Obama come from the "road map" he presented in May 2011, but, unlike the plan being promoted by a bipartisan group of eight senators, the president prefers a more direct path to legislation.

His hope, he said, is that his proposals will serve as a guide to help Congress take action on immigration reform this year, though he acknowledged that "there will be a rigorous debate" on the details.

Immigration reform, a promise Obama made in 2008 but never kept, has the backing of a wide coalition of Hispanic, civic, academic, religious, union and business groups. EFE