Conversely, Obama admitted that immigration reform was one of the biggest failures in his first term, and said it would be a priority in his second one. There is good reason to be optimistic. Republicans in Congress can't afford to ignore political reality after the stinging rebuke they received from Hispanic voters.
Exit polls Tuesday showed 65 percent of voters - including 37 percent of Republicans - support giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status. Congress has come close to providing that in the past. It shouldn't be such a heavy lift for it to reach an acceptable compromise.
Leading the effort ought to be Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who, before he moved right on the issue to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2008, was a leading voice for immigration reform. In 2006, McCain and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) sponsored a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for guest-worker status.
Let's see whether McCain and Obama can use immigration reform as the vehicle to show America that bipartisanship isn't an extinct species in Washington.
If they need inspiration, they can look across the Potomac to Maryland, where voters overwhelmingly approved a state version of the federal legislation dubbed the DREAM Act.
The new law allows all Maryland youngsters, regardless of immigration status, to pay in-state college tuition if they graduate from high school and meet other requirements.
Too often, the opposite has occurred, with states like Arizona, and even towns, like Hazleton in Pennsylvania, enacting their own misguided immigration crackdowns because of the void left by inadequate federal law.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) now says he's "confident" Republicans can find common ground with Democrats on a comprehensive immigration bill. Let's see them get to work.
Obama made a good first step in June when he issued an executive order that prevents the children of undocumented immigrants who join the military or go to college from being deported. That rule change offers a reprieve to 1.4 million young people who came here before age 16. But it doesn't open a door to citizenship for them or their parents.
Congress can do that, so otherwise law-abiding immigrants can contribute to American society as legally employed taxpayers.