Flanked by his counterparts from Mexico and Canada, President Barack Obama on Monday reiterated his commitment to pursuing comprehensive immigration reform, despite his packed political agenda and the staunch opposition such an initiative is likely to face.

Obama predicted that he would be successful but acknowledged the challenges, saying, “I’ve got a lot on my plate.” He added that there would almost certainly be “demagogues out there who try to suggest that any form or pathway for legalization for those who are already in the United States is unacceptable.”

But in the most detailed outline yet of his timetable, the president said that he expected the Democratic-controlled Congress, after completing work on health care, energy and financial regulation, to draft immigration bills this year, and that he would begin work on getting them passed in 2010.

“Now, am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No,” the president said. “But ultimately, I think the American people want fairness. And we can create a system in which you have strong border security and an orderly process for people to come in. But we’re also giving an opportunity for those who are already in the United States to be able to achieve a pathway to citizenship so they don’t have to live in the shadows.”

The president’s comments came during a news conference at the end of a summit of North American leaders. The meeting was aimed at increasing cooperation in the region on a broad range of shared problems and resolving some of the issues that have long strained trilateral relations among countries whose people and economies depend heavily on one another.

During the meetings, which began Sunday afternoon, Obama, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada discussed climate change and clean energy, swine flu, immigration, trade and the growing threat posed by organized crime.

While it was clear at the news conference Monday that the three leaders had not reached any significant new agreements, they expressed understanding for one another’s positions and vowed to keep working to resolve outstanding disputes.

Harper, for example, stood by a decision a month ago to require Mexicans to apply for visas but said the problems were Canada’s, not Mexico’s. “It is simply far too easy to make a bogus refugee claim as a way of entering the country,” he said. “And we have to change that.”

A “Buy American” provision attached to the U.S. stimulus package has ignited a political storm in Canada, the United States’ most important trading partner. But on Monday, Obama played down the scope of the program, saying it was something he had grudgingly accepted to achieve the greater purpose of pumping money into the flailing U.S. economy.

“I think it’s important to keep this in perspective,” Obama said. “This in no way has endangered the billions of dollars in trade taking place between our two countries.”