Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, is pressuring the House to act on immigration legislation before the end of the year, calling the issue "a matter of great moral urgency" that cannot wait in a letter to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Thursday.

"As a moral matter ... our nation cannot continue to receive the benefits of the work and contributions of undocumented immigrants without extending to them the protection of the law."

- Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York

Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed he was troubled by reports that immigration reform is delayed in the House since lawmakers have a responsibility to resolve the issue. Writing on behalf of the 450-plus U.S. cardinals and bishops, Dolan said they respectfully request that the House address the immigration issue as soon as possible.

The Senate passed a bill in June that would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally and tighten border security, but the measure has stalled in the House where Boehner and GOP leaders have argued for a piecemeal approach.

"As a moral matter ... our nation cannot continue to receive the benefits of the work and contributions of undocumented immigrants without extending to them the protection of the law," Dolan wrote. "Keeping these human beings as a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to assert their rights or enjoy the fruits of their labor is a stain on the soul of the nation."

Dolan reiterated the bishops' stand that immigration legislation includes a path to citizenship, reaffirms family reunification, deals with future flows of migrant workers and restores basic due process protections to immigrants.

He wrote Boehner, a Catholic, that immigration is "a challenge that has confounded our nation for years, with little action from our federally elected officials. It is a matter of great moral urgency that cannot wait any longer for action."

The House has just a few legislative days left in the year, and prospects for any legislation are murky.

Responding to Dolan's letter, Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said the speaker "has been very clear that he supports common-sense, step-by-step reforms to fix our broken immigration system."

Most House Republicans reject a comprehensive approach as well as the Senate bill, with many questioning the offer of citizenship to people who broke U.S. immigration laws to be in this country. The House Judiciary Committee has moved forward with individual, single-issue immigration bills.

Although House Republican leaders say they want to resolve the issue, which has become a political drag for the GOP, many rank-and-file House Republicans have shown little inclination to deal with it. The bitter standoff with President Barack Obama on the budget and near default further angered House Republicans, who have resisted any move that might give Obama an immigration overhaul, the top item on his second-term domestic agenda.

Numerous House Republicans also are wary of passing any immigration legislation that would set up a conference with the Senate, fearing that they would lose out in final negotiations.

The Senate bill, strongly backed by the White House, includes billions for border security, a reworked legal immigration system to allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled workers into the country and a 13-year path to citizenship for those living here illegally.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.