A group of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives cooked up a way to sell immigration reform to conservative lawmakers, but the plan seems so poorly thought-out that you have to wonder if it will ever see the light of day.
The idea: create a way for some of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants to obtain "probationary" legal status. Then potentially take that legal status away in five years -- through no fault of the people in the program.
According to the Washington Post, a large-scale immigration bill in the House will include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but would make that pathway contingent on whether the government meets a certain benchmark with respect to immigration enforcement.
The benchmark, the Post reports, will be that an employment verification system be "fully operational" within five years. If that doesn't happen, then undocumented immigrants could lose their legal status, according to the article.
What, exactly, would happen next? Would federal immigration agents raid the homes of people who have already registered with the government, passed background checks and are paying taxes?
Or would the people with probationary legal status just lose their rights in the workplace and civil society, unable to complain about employer abuses because of fear of eventual deportation?
Some experts seem to think the employment verification program, E-Verify, could be implemented nationwide in five years. So you could argue that since the so-called "trigger" is attainable, people's legal status probably wouldn't be in jeopardy.
There are lots reasons to be skeptical, though.
Look at the Affordable Care Act, for example. One key provision is already being delayed by a year, administration officials announced this month.
Any big federal program can hit these kinds of snags, but with a legislative package as complex as the healthcare bill, it's not too surprising. The same could happen with immigration reform and E-Verify.
There's also a question of who decides if the workplace verification program is "fully operational."
The Washington Post article -- sourced to a legislative aide with knowledge of the bill -- didn't say. And an aide contacted by ABC-Univision wouldn't comment on the legislation itself.
The House group will almost certainly include some version of mandatory E-Verify in its bill. One of the members working on the legislation, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (California), recently said she was open to the program under the right circumstances.
"You could design an E-Verify system that was perfect -- 100 percent easy to use, 100 percent accurate, at virtually no cost to big and small businesses," she said at a late-June committee hearing. "But if we imposed that system nationwide and did nothing to fix our broken immigration system, the consequences would be a disaster."
However, you also have to wonder if people living in the country without authorization would want to apply for a legalization program that could potentially be snatched away in five years, simply because of a bureaucratic delay.
We'll have to see the actual legislation before we pass judgment, but, as reported, the broad outlines seem like a potential trainwreck.