(ABCNEWS)-- One major piece of unfinished business from George W. Bush's presidency is comprehensive immigration reform. With the issue once again before Congress, President Barack Obama said Thursday if it passes this time, Bush should receive a lion's share of the credit.
Obama spoke, along with four other living U.S. presidents, at a dedication ceremony for Bush's new presidential library in Dallas, Texas. All of them mostly avoided discussion of partisan politics, but Obama took a moment to praise Bush for his effort to find compromise on immigration reform.
He framed the current proposals to strengthen border security and offer a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants as an effort to finish the work that Bush started in 2007, saying it "has taken a little longer than any of us had expected" to accomplish.
That effort failed in the face of opposition from conservative lawmakers and labor unions. But Obama expressed optimism that this time would be different.
"I am hopeful that this year ... that we bring it home," Obama said. "If we do that, it will be in large part thanks to all the hard work of President George W. Bush."
The president's remarks come at a time when Republicans are having an internal debate whether to embrace immigration reform or reject it as most GOP lawmakers did six years ago.
Obama said that immigration reform is only one example of how Bush reached across the aisle during his time in office (something Candidate Obama may not have admitted during his 2008 campaign). He also cited the No Child Left Behind education law that Bush helped pass with the cooperation of the late liberal icon Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)
"We remember his commitment to reaching across the aisle to unlikely allies like Ted Kennedy because he believed that we had to reform our schools in ways that help every child learn, not just some. That we have to repair our broken immigration system," he said. "And that this progress is only possible when we do it together."