The undocumented Irish community in the U.S. received a major boost today with the announcement from the White House that it will push forward with a legalization program.

Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano said the Obama administration is seeking a "tough but fair pathway to earned legal status."

Bart Murphy, the chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said he was encouraged by the move.

"I am encouraged to finally see some positive action from the (Obama) Administration and a commitment to deal with immigration reform sooner rather than later," he said.

"President Obama will need to do some really heavy lifting on this issue in Congress, the Senate and in the labor movement. There is a bi-partisan interest in immigration reform and it needs to be nurtured."

Napolitano's comments are the strongest possible signal from the White House that the administration wants to act on immigration before the mid-term elections in November.

Advocates on both sides of the debate had feared that Obama might postpone any action until after November.

However, Napolitano today made it very clear that the administration wants to move on this issue now.

Napolitano said the legalization was essential for the nation's security.

“Let me emphasize this,” she said. “We will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows.”

The White House plan would require illegal immigrants to register, pay fines and any outstanding taxes, pass a criminal background check and learn English.