IMMIGRATION ‘REFORM’….There are plenty of reasons to worry about immigration “reform” measures recently passed by the House, but there’s one provision in particular that’s generating quite a bit of attention.

Churches, social service agencies and immigration groups across the country are rallying against a provision in the recently passed House border-security bill that would make it a federal crime to offer services or assistance to illegal immigrants.

The measure would broaden the nation’s immigrant-smuggling law so that people who assist or shield illegal immigrants would be subject to prosecution. Offenders, who might include priests, nurses or social workers, could face up to five years in prison. The proposal would also allow the authorities to seize some assets of those convicted of such a crime.

The reality is that senators from both parties acknowledge that the House bill isn’t going anywhere. But expectations aside, House Republicans are walking a perilous political tightrope here. On the one hand, the conservative base wants harsh restrictions that punish illegal immigrants for being in the country. On the other, many faith-based groups that the GOP would like to impress, including the politically powerful U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, not only oppose the bill, they’re pushing the White House to oppose the measure publicly.

Indeed, in a manner of speaking, this is a Republican “faith-based initiative” gone awry. For all the talk about empowering churches to create “armies of compassion,” House Republicans have endorsed legislation that essentially tells ministries, “We want you to help those in need, but if one of the needy turns out to be in the country illegally, be prepared to go to jail.”

Of course, if the bill did become law, the moment the evening news aired images of a priest getting arrested for providing care to an ailing six year old, Congress would act with amazing efficiency to rewrite the legislation. Those lawmakers can move pretty quickly when they want to.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.