WASHINGTON - Is a bipartisan immigration deal at hand? It's close.
Last week, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce worked out a guest-worker compromise that allows in foreign workers on a sliding scale of 20,000 to 200,000, depending on the strength of the economy.
Nice deal. As are the other elements of the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight plan - the expansion of H-1B visas for skilled immigrants, serious tracking of visa overstayers and, most important, a universal E-Verify system that would make it very risky for any employer to hire an illegal immigrant.
But there's a rub. It's the perennial rub.
Are Democrats serious about border enforcement?
It's supposed to be the trigger that would allow illegal immigrants to start on the path to citizenship.
Why is a trigger necessary? To prevent a repeat of the 1986 fiasco where amnesty was granted and border enforcement never came - giving us today's 11 million living in the shadows.
Yet just a week ago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, referring to border enforcement, averred that "relying on one thing as a so-called trigger is not the way to go."
Regarding legalization, "there needs to be certainty."
But not for border security?
And she's the person in charge of securing that border.
Now listen to President Obama:
"Given the size of the border, it's never going to be 110 percent perfect. What we can do is to continue to improve it."
The usual Obama straw man. Who's asking for 110 percent enforcement?
And the need is for something a lot more than just improvement. The objective is to reduce a river to a trickle.
It's doable. The two sections with triple fencing outside San Diego have reduced infiltration by 92 percent.
To be sure, the Gang of Eight enforcement trigger is not ideal.
The 11 million get near-instant legalization - on the day, perhaps six to nine months after the bill is signed, when Homeland Security submits a plan (with the required funding) to achieve within a decade 90 percent apprehension and 100 percent real-time surveillance.