Immigration reform didn't get anywhere during the last four years of the Bush administration, and President Obama failed to push it during his first four years in office.
Remarkably, this week there are promising signs that Democrats and Republicans may finally be willing and able to reach compromise on comprehensive reform.
A bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators put forth a reasonable set of immigration reform principles on Monday. They aim to have a bill by March, with Senate passage by August.
The House, too, seems interested. After the election, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "This issue has been around far too long. ... A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself and others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."
He repeated that view last week, and a bipartisan group of House members has been meeting and will come up with a proposal.
And on Tuesday, the president offered support for the framework put forward by the bipartisan Senate committee, with the caveat that he wants something accomplished before the end of the year.
The principles laid out by the senators reflect the basics of what the United States needs to create a working immigration system -- and that U.S. residents support, as indicated in many polls.
First, they aim to address underlying causes of illegal immigration -- for example, getting rid of visa backlogs and setting a more reasonable number of immigrant visas to prevent future backlogs.
Backlogs force families to live apart for years, which encourages illegal immigration. "We all agree," the senators said in a statement, "that we must reduce backlogs in the family and employment visa categories so that future immigrants view our future legal immigration system as the exclusive means for entry into the United States."
The senators also take on the vexing issue of the existing illegal immigrant population, recognizing it is not possible to round up and deport 5 million men, 4 million women and 2 million children.
Under their set of principles, these folks would have to register with the government, pass a background check, and pay a fine and back taxes. They would then get "probationary legal status." They could not apply for green cards for permanent residency, the first step toward citizenship, until certain border enforcement measures were in place -- such as the long overdue entry-exit system that tracks whether visitors temporarily here for tourism, business or schooling have left the country at the expiration of their visas. They would then go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants.
Children brought illegally to the United States, the "DREAMers," and agricultural workers would have a different path to citizenship.
This is a good start. If the House and Senate can find common ground on immigration, that could lay the groundwork for successes in other pressing national needs.