On his recent trip to Mexico, President Barack Obama held out hope for action on a comprehensive immigration bill -- but perhaps not this year.
"I would anticipate that, before the year is out, we will have draft legislation along with sponsors potentially in the House and the Senate who are ready to move this forward and, when we come back next year, that we should be in a position to start acting," he said.
Some immigration reform advocates interpreted that as a signal of more delay, noting that the president had pledged to seek action this year. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano discussed the timing in only general terms last week in Dallas.
Still, all signs are that Obama is serious about pushing the comprehensive immigration reform he promised in the campaign, once lawmakers act on his extensive 2009 agenda.
That was his clear message last month to more than 100 representatives of interested business, labor and advocacy groups at a meeting clearly designed to ease concerns about his intentions.
Still, despite pressure from Hispanic supporters -- and the fact that fixing immigration is long overdue -- it's easy to doubt that Congress would tackle so tough an issue, especially in an election year.
But Simon Rosenberg, president of the liberal think tank NDN and a longtime advocate of comprehensive immigration legislation, believes the political climate actually favors action.
"The Republicans need to do something about the fact that their opposition to immigration reform is continuing to drive down their numbers with the nation's fastest-growing group," he said. "And the Democrats need to do something because they promised to get it done."
Besides, he said, "there is a history of bipartisan cooperation on immigration, which is not true of some other issues, like climate control."
Senate supporters hope to form a coalition like the one that passed a bill there three years ago with Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., possibly filling the roles played before by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy and Arizona Republican John McCain.
Schumer, who chairs the Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee, said in July that he expected to draft legislation by Labor Day to regulate the legal flow of foreign workers, curb illegal immigration and provide a long-term path toward citizenship for the millions here illegally.
Though that timetable has slipped, the panel plans more hearings this fall, and Majority Leader Harry Reid predicts Senate action by year's end. But the ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, says he has not yet seen specific proposals, and history suggests many Republicans would oppose a bipartisan bill, though perhaps not as solidly as they oppose Obama on health care reform.
Senate action would send the legislation to the House, where the 2006 bill died. The issue could severely test Democratic unity, given labor's concerns over temporary worker programs.
Administration action would please Hispanic advocacy groups critical of Napolitano's emphasis on enforcing existing laws against illegal immigration. But her effort could lead to bipartisan backing.
And Obama's success in installing Sonia Sotomayor as the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice has reinforced his standing with a key voter group.
Recent polling shows Hispanics strongly back Obama and the Democratic Party but give the GOP and its leaders stunningly low single-digit support. And an April ABC News/Washington Post poll showed 61 percent favored giving illegal immigrants the right to stay legally if they paid a fine and met other requirements.
But the main reason for seeking action is that it's one of those big issues Obama promised to address.
His recent moves indicate he recognizes that, despite the perils of an ambitious agenda, he needs to take advantage of this opportunity to seek important changes. They don't come along very often.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via e-mail at: email@example.com.