WASHINGTON-- Donning green in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama promoted U.S-Irish ties on St. Patrick's Day as proof of America's immigrant-friendly tradition. He and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny urged Congress to follow Obama's lead on immigration.

Obama hosted Kenny, known in Ireland as the Taoiseach, on Tuesday for their yearly St. Patrick's Day meeting, then accompanied him to the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol. Obama defended the executive steps he's taken to shield millions in the U.S. from deportation, while acknowledging that due to a Republican lawsuit, those actions are "currently tied up in the courts."

"We share the view that one of the great strengths of the US has always been its willingness to welcome new immigrants to our shores," Obama said. "That's what's made us unique and special."

Kenny, who has become a familiar face at the White House after years of St. Patrick's Day visits, said U.S. immigration policies were a priority for Ireland. In a clear reference to Congress, he said he hoped that eventually the political leadership in Washington would find a way to "actually deal with this."

Obama and the Irish leader both used their appearance on the popular holiday to tout the need to finalize a major U.S.-European trade pact, with Kenny saying he wanted to see it finished before Obama's term expires. The two leaders also discussed the Islamic State group threat and the situation in eastern Ukraine, Obama said.

And Obama, in a nod to political turmoil in Northern Ireland said there was reason to be hopeful but added that "there's still more work to do."

Vice President Joe Biden kicked off the day of festivities earlier Tuesday with a breakfast at the Naval Observatory, the vice president's official residence, where Biden toasted Kenny and mingled with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and prominent Irish-Americans. After musical performances at the Capitol luncheon, the leaders were to return to the White House for Obama's annual St. Patrick's Day reception.