President Barack Obama's conspicuous inattention to immigration reform in his State of the Union address suggests we will get no legislative action on this important issue in 2010. The president is focused on jobs, and apparently unwilling to get sidetracked by the thorny politics of immigration. This is a mistake. America will not be successful with its jobs agenda unless we get the immigration question resolved now.

The New York City economic data are much too compelling to ignore. The extraordinary period of growth and regeneration the city has experienced in the past 15 years could not have taken place without immigrant workers and consumers.

Between 1970 and 2008, the city's immigrant population more than doubled to 3 million, while the native-born population declined by more than 1 million. In 2008, 36.4% of the city's population and 42% of its work force were immigrants.

According to a recent report by the state comptroller, New York City immigrants accounted for $215 billion in economic activity in 2008, 32% of the gross city product. Immigrants' contribution to the GCP increased by 61% from 2000 to 2008, indicating a high work force participation rate and growth in wages.

Immigrants are also starting a greater share of new businesses than native-born residents, revitalizing commercial districts in every city neighborhood. They are engaged in a broad range of occupations, with significant representation in health and technology-related fields.

What about the public's views in this contentious political season? Most people assume the public wants the president to focus on the economy. But a national poll of likely voters conducted in December by Benenson Strategy Group found that 65% of respondents support Congress' passing comprehensive immigration reform and prefer that it take up the issue in 2010. While the economy and health care remain the top issues, 55% believe “the economic crisis we are in makes it more crucial than ever that we solve our immigration problems.” When asked about their greatest concern about illegal immigration, 48% say, “They don't pay taxes” and only 17% say, “They are taking jobs away.” Contrary to popular belief, the public recognizes that immigration reform is part of solving our nation's economic problems.

The president and Congress should seize the opportunity to focus on the economic issues around which there is already consensus.

First, they should create a path to citizenship that permits undocumented immigrants to pay a fine and back taxes, pass a criminal background check and earn legal status and eventually U.S. citizenship.

Second, they should establish a commission to determine future levels of permanent and temporary immigration to the United States based on the demand for labor.

Third, they should loosen the cap on professional H-1B visas to respond to market demand.

Fourth, they should exempt students with higher degrees in science, technology, engineering and math from the H-1B cap.