President Barack Obama recently sounded this alarm: "If Congress continues to stand only for dysfunction and delay, then I'm going to move ahead without them."

The president reportedly will reprise that warning of executive orders to come in tonight's State of the Union speech.

But he also is expected to take a less confrontational stance on immigration.

Evidently, President Obama remains hopeful for positive legislative action on that front.

And while many conservatives remain resistant to overdue immigration reform, there are encouraging signs from both parties in Washington that at least some elements of it can finally be achieved this year.

Politico reported last week that "the White House is trying to dial down the partisan rhetoric on immigration - and it's asking its allies to do the same."

That continues an encouraging administration shift that began a month ago, when the president backed away from his demand that the Republican House approve the comprehensive immigration overhaul passed by the Senate last June.

Instead, the White House has been signaling willingness to take a step-by-step legislative approach on immigration.

That has given House Speaker John Boehner and other prominent GOP lawmakers who favor immigration reform the time and political space to effectively negotiate with not just Democrats but fellow Republicans.

GOP House leaders are working on a set of principles, expected to be released this week, that can provide a framework for compromise with Democrats - including the president.

Yes, serious debate persists about the Senate bill's "pathway to citizenship."

However, there should be no debate on this point: Any practical immigration solution must include a process by which some of the estimated 11 million people in this country illegally can gain legal status. Many of those illegal immigrants have long been working - and productive - U.S. residents. They are assets especially for the agriculture, construction and hospitality industries.

But reform isn't just necessary on the low-wage end. It's costly folly to educate foreign students in high-tech skills at our nation's universities, then force them to leave after graduation.

Of course, immigration reform must strengthen border security.

It also must reverse decades of federal neglect that has prompted several states, including ours, to pass their own immigration laws in recent years.

Illegal immigration is a national problem that requires national solutions.

And even in this election year, both sides in Washington appear increasingly inclined to finally start delivering positive bipartisan immigration reform - step by step.