The federal government and American Civil Liberties Union, among others, sued to block the immigration legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2011. And judging from court documents filed early this week, the state attorney general's office will agree to drop some of the law's provisions to resolve that legal case.

But salvaging a portion of the state law won't change this long-term reality: The problem of illegal immigration demands a federal solution.

And regardless of what anybody, including federal judges, thinks about the immigration laws passed by South Carolina and several other states in recent years, the only practical path to a coherent policy lies in overdue reform by Congress.

State immigration laws have predictably generated a dizzying tangle of legal arguments and rulings, including the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 decision striking down much of Arizona's 2010 legislation. Adding to the immigration confusion are the differences between the states' laws.

That doesn't mean state lawmakers in South Carolina or anywhere else acted irresponsibly by trying to fix a broken immigration system. Federal neglect at both the executive and congressional levels created a serious void that they have been trying to fill.

But while those state laws and the costly court battles over them have muddied the immigration waters, Congress can - and should - finally clarify the issue by making the hard calls required to overhaul federal immigration law.

Unfortunately, too many conservatives long ago bought the hard-line myth that a "pathway to citizenship" for some of the nation's illegal immigrants - now estimated to total 11 million - is tantamount to "amnesty." That's why mostly Republicans, not Democrats, blocked President George W. Bush's repeated attempts to craft reasonable reforms that included a difficult but fair way for productive illegal immigrants to gain legal status, and eventually, citizenship.

Such resistance to needed immigration changes has persisted during President Barack Obama's White House tenure, blocking his own efforts for comprehensive reform.

Yet over the last few months, President Obama has backed away from his prior demands for "comprehensive" reforms in one bill. Instead, he has expressed willingness to advance in incremental steps toward improved immigration policy - an approach favored by Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Still, some GOP lawmakers facing primary challenges this year are understandably wary of being tagged as "amnesty" advocates.

That, however, hasn't kept our state's senior senator, derisively dubbed "Lindsey Grahamnesty" years ago by right-wing radio star Rush Limbaugh, from sticking to his stand for bipartisan immigration reform.

And before rejecting such a compromise, keep in mind the enduring drawbacks of the status quo.

Yes, illegal immigrants are breaking the law just by being here. But most of them are also productive contributors to the nation's economy in the farming, housing, hospitality and other industries.

And no state, including ours, can fix the nation's broken immigration system on its own.

That's a job Congress must do - and the sooner, the better.