Analysis: Why Immigration Reform Isn't a Guarantee

Obama struck a different tone, reiterating his support for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, but also admitted that immigration reform was his "biggest failure."

In the past year, he enacted a major administrative change, using his executive power to allow certain Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. legally, but on a temporary basis, without a pathway to citizenship. A legislative victory has remained elusive.

As far back as April, Obama pledged that he would attempt to pass an immigration reform bill in 2013. "I can promise that I will try to do it in the first year of my second term," he told Univision anchor Enrique Acevedo. "I want to try this year."

The outcome of the president's first immigration promise is clear: he backseated the issue early in his presidency, and never picked it up with the seriousness of purpose needed to craft and pass a reform bill.

Experts have tied Obama's presidential win -- and Romney's loss -- to the Latino vote, and with that, the political calls for reform are starting again. But the composition of Congress, with the House solidly Republican, is less favorable than 2009-2010, when broad legislative change was last considered viable.

Whether reform is possible depends in part on the House. Will Republicans, smarting from the presidential loss, be willing to address what many Latinos consider a core issue? Or will it be an encore presentation of the so-called "do-nothing" Congress from the past two years?

The president's political appetite for reform is also crucial. He could attack immigration reform as he did with healthcare. Or he could ignore it and hope it goes away.

In any case, the calls for reform are already growing. "This is the time to do it," said Ben Monterroso, the national executive director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, during a webinar hosted by the political opinion research firm Latino Decisions. "The community and the voters are expecting not a piecemeal approach to an issue that has been at the center of the debate for years."

Over in the Senate, where the DREAM Act was defeated two years ago, Majority Leader Harry Reid says reform is a "high priority" and is hopeful that Republicans will agree.

"Not for political reasons; because it's the wrong thing to do to not have comprehensive immigration reform," Reid said. "The system's broken and needs to be fixed."

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