CATHAL Gallagher has about three weeks left in the U.S., as you'll read elsewhere in this issue. Gallagher was born in Donegal and spent over two decades working as a priest in Japan. That doesn't quite seem like the background of a priest who would not only relocate to, but decide to plant roots in, the sparse, rural lands of South Dakota

But that is what Father Gallagher has done. He is currently pastor for several small South Dakota parishes, including St. Thomas Aquinas in the town of DeSmet, whose population is just over 1,000.

The towns may be small, but Gallagher surely has to deal with earthly and spiritual crises on a daily basis, just like any other hardworking priest.

Right now, the main problem in Gallagher's life is that, after about 10 years of trying to navigate U.S. immigration law and attempting to secure permanent residency, Gallagher's time in South Dakota might be running out.

Parishioners, immigration advocates, even South Dakota senators Tim Johnson and John Thune have attempted to intervene on Gallagher's behalf.

"I liked this place, the prairies, the people," he said in a recent interview with Catholic News Service. "Yes, this is where I'd like to spend the rest of my career."

But unless, well, a miracle occurs, Gallagher has to pack his bags by July 1.

Gallagher, of course, is not the only immigrant currently snared in an immigration limbo. And, yes, some of the people who get caught by immigration laws are potential terrorists, tax cheats or other criminals.

That all being said, it is worth noting that the two South Dakota senators who have spoken out for Gallagher come from different political parties. Johnson is a Democrat, while Thune is a Republican. Yet both seem to recognize that there are areas of current U.S. immigration law that are, at best, irrational.

All of which suggests that this is a crucial moment in terms of hoping to see any kind of immigration reform. After all, we finally have our presidential contenders, Barack Obama and John McCain, two other senators from different sides of the aisle. And yet, they too seem to acknowledge that something substantive and constructive should be done about immigration.

But can it be done?

The bigger challenge, of course, is for McCain. There is a section of the Republican Party base that has no use for immigrants.

Some of these arguments are not based on racism and xenophobia, some of them are. Still, as the economy continues to tank, you can bet having a rational debate about immigration is going to get tougher and tougher, especially among Republicans.

And yet, give McCain credit. He has never been afraid to buck his own party. He is smart enough, every now and then, to say to himself, "Look, voters don't have to agree with me on everything. Will they really vote Democratic based on one single issue, when they agree with me on most others?"

Last week, a small rumor floated around New York political circles that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's top political aide, Kevin Sheekey, was being wooed to run the upcoming Republican National Convention in Minnesota.

Sheekey is the Irish American spinmeister who was charged earlier this year with testing the waters when it came to deciding whether or not Bloomberg would run for president. One of Bloomberg's main strengths, according to Sheekey, was the mayor's bipartisan appeal, especially on issues such as immigration.

"Like most Irish Americans born before the Summer of Love, Kevin Sheekey cannot ignore the lure of Camelot," author Thomas Kelly noted in an Esquire profile of Sheekey.

It now appears Sheekey will not take the 2008 Republican convention job. But the fact that the McCain camp was considering him suggests they realize there is value in bringing in people affiliated with the Republican Party's pro-immigration wing.

Obama has shocked the world by suggesting the old ways of thinking are done. McCain may yet shock his own party by doing the very same thing on immigration.

Or maybe not. After all, this is not to suggest we are entering some sort of golden age for immigration policy.

Just ask Father Cathal Gallagher of South Dakota, who may, against his will, be back in Donegal in three weeks.

(Contact Tom