The tragedy, of course, is that we had such a bill. It was sponsored in 2005 by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy and strongly supported by then President George W. Bush. It did not even get to the floor of the Senate or House for a vote. The right hated it because it provided a legal path for undocumented workers, the left because it reduced family unification. And the unions opposed the temporary-worker provisions.

In an earlier era, the fact that the more extreme wings of the parties disliked the bill might actually have made passage easier, because that meant it was supported at the center, where the action lay. Today all the power has shifted to the wings of the two parties, who control their agendas. The failure of immigration reform is a metaphor for the breakdown of the political process. The simple fact is that in a country of more than 300 million people, any policy is going to have opponents–not everyone agrees with you–but the opponents can now paralyze the process. So nothing gets done.

It’s a sad state, because the U.S. remains a model for the world. It is the global melting pot, the place where a universal nation is being created. We may not do immigration better than everyone else anymore, but we do assimilation better than anyone else. People from all over the world come to this country and, almost magically, become Americans.

They–I should say we–come to the country with drive and dedication and over time develop a fierce love for America. This infusion of talent, hard work and patriotism has kept the country vital for the past two centuries. And if we can renew it, it will keep America vital in the 21st century as well.