Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The overly complicated immigration-reform bill has landed in the Senate like a live grenade. One side wants to defuse it and send it safely to the House. The other hopes it will explode, ending what they see as virtual amnesty for illegal aliens.

No other legislative issue, outside of the Iraq war, has enflamed political passions more, and the battle is expected to be a long one, interrupted by the weeklong Memorial Day recess, that will push any votes into June at the earliest -- if it survives.

With so many opponents aligned against its many provisions, it is hard to see this bill going anywhere in a narrowly divided Congress.

Businesses oppose the bill's crack down on employers who hire illegal workers and the costly requirements to verify the legal status of every worker. Anti-immigration activists oppose the idea of granting legal status, let alone citizenship, to illegal migrants. Pro-immigration activists complain that the fines, temporary-worker periods and requirements to return to their country every two years is onerous and impractical.

At 1,000-plus pages, the bill is a bureaucratic Rube Goldberg contraption of legislative provisions taped together by a bipartisan bunch of senators led by Democrat Ted Kennedy. A rule of thumb in such bills is to multiply the number of regulations needed to carry them out by a force of 10. If it's true in this case, then the results become nearly impenetrable.

There are, of course, things in the bill that each group can like, and does like. Immigration critics agree with its beefed-up border-enforcement provisions. The business and agriculture communities support a temporary-worker system enforced by counterfeit-proof identification cards. But there are also many hoops, hurdles and penalties in it that both sides say are deal breakers. With an army of battle-hardened opponents aligned against it, the bill is about to be fed into the legislative meat grinder, where it faces an uncertain fate.

Ominously, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the bill that will be produced by the House would be very different from the one now being debated in the Senate -- setting up another stalemate scenario when neither house could agree on a compromise. But one thing has struck me about the immigration debate that I have found difficult to reconcile with reality: the unquestioning belief by conservatives, who are usually skeptical about the effectiveness of most government-run programs, that this time the bureaucrats can solve our border problem.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.