Estimates of the illegal immigrant population in the U.S., and news that the number in Texas continues to climb, come just in time to remind Congress of the need to reform immigration policy — and get it done by the end of the year.Fortunately, there are some hopeful signs.Nationwide, the number of illegal immigrants reached 12.2 million in 2007, then began to slide as the recession took a severe toll on jobs. The number fell to 11.3 million in 2009.Now the nonpartisan Pew Research Center has compiled estimates that say the figure has inched back up and stands at 11.7 million. Experts aren’t ready to say whether the growth will escalate, but they say signs are clear that the slide has stopped.In Texas, the slide never happened, the center’s numbers show: An estimated 1.75 million illegal immigrants lived in the state last year, up from 1.7 million in 2011 and 1.5 million in 2007.Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Research Center, said the relatively strong economy in Texas “undoubtedly” played a part in drawing immigrants to jobs.Experts don’t expect the type of surge in illegal immigration that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, partly because Mexico’s workforce is aging and more jobs are available there.Still, Border Patrol apprehensions of non-Mexican illegal immigrants are increasing. Eighty percent of all illegal immigration in the U.S. comes from Mexico and Latin America, experts say.The center’s estimates are based on census data through March 2012. The Census Bureau does not ask people about their immigration status, but Pew’s methodology in deriving estimates is generally accepted.What’s the takeaway from all of this? The key is the overall number: 11.7 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. And even in hard times, the number dropped by only about 1 million.That says repeated efforts over the years to come up with a sensible immigration policy have not worked. Just about everyone in Congress seems to recognize that, as does President Barack Obama. The Democrat-led Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June, but Republicans who dominate the House weren’t happy with all of its terms.The standoff has reached a crucial point. If the House does not approve an immigration reform bill this year, there is reason to fear prolonged inaction surrounding next year’s party primaries and November general election.House Republican leaders have said in the past week that there will be action. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said Thursday that his committee is working on four bills related to controlling the flow of illegal immigrants across the border.Obama, who has pushed immigration reform as signature legislation for his second term, has said it’s OK if the House wants to take it piece by piece instead of trying to pass a comprehensive bill like the Senate.But he said the legislation must include three elements: stronger border security, penalties for employers who take advantage of illegal workers and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are living illegally in the United States.For the House, the first two are much easier than the third. It’s the “path to citizenship” that sharply divides Democrats and Republicans.That divide is too often portrayed as simple politics, that Democrats support a path to citizenship because they believe they’ll get more of the immigrants’ votes and Republicans want to block it for the same reason.Some Republicans are willing to accept the concept of legal resident status for the current population of illegal immigrants, perhaps with a way to apply for citizenship once that’s attained. If the path to citizenship is where the great divide exists, that’s where compromise must come. It’s essential that House members find that point of compromise this year, pass immigration reform and move on to resolving any differences with the Senate.The issue is too big to just let it rest.