(By Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s interesting to hear the Obama administration admit that, though. The White House usually dodges battles it won’t win. You haven’t, for instance, seen them announcing a big push on cap-and-trade recently. But they’re in a tough spot on this one. During the campaign, Obama went on Univision and promised an immigration bill in his first year. That was before Lehman collapsed, and before health-care reform got bottled up until March 2010, and even if it hadn’t been before all that, it probably still wouldn’t have happened. But now the White House has to figure out some way to prove to the Hispanic community that they didn’t get played for votes.

One option would be to, well, pass immigration reform. Few immigration advocates would stay angry if the president signed an immigration bill in his third year rather than his first. But the White House doesn’t have the votes and doesn’t know how to get them. It might be accurate for the president to say, “This change ultimately has to be driven by you ... you’ve got to help push for comprehensive reform,” but it’s not likely to result in a law anytime soon.

Another option would be for Obama and the Democrats to put their shoulders behind smaller pieces of legislation that have more life in them and may, just may, have the potential to begin changing the immigration debate. That’s why I’d say the most important event in immigration politics in the last 24 hours wasn’t Obama’s speech, but Harry Reid’s decision to reintroduce the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act applies to undocumented immigrants who a) were brought here before turning 16, b) are between 12 and 30, and c) complete two years of college or military service as a path to citizenship. There’s no more sympathetic group in the immigration debate then children who were brought here illegally through no fault of their own, and there’s no more obvious group to help than those who get degrees in our universities or serve in our military. And the DREAM Act has demonstrated its congressional appeal: The bill almost passed in December 2010. There’s not much reason to believe it could pass in 2011, either, but it could get enough votes in the Senate to force Republicans to kill it themselves, and it’s a bill that the Obama administration could, if they put real effort into it over the next few years, plausibly push over the finish line. And so far, promising to pass laws that actually can’t pass hasn’t worked out for them.