ON A COLD South Broad Street sidewalk outside U.S. Rep. Bob Brady's office, a half-dozen speakers were demanding that he support HR 4321, a bill to reform America's immigration and enforcement policy.

By the time the hour-long demonstration ended Tuesday, Brady - who was not in the office - sent word that he would sign on as a co-sponsor.

Viva Brady!

They didn't shout that. They did chant "Si, Se Puede." That's "Yes, We Can," in Spanish. Also, "Que queremos? Justicia!" which means "What do we want? Justice!"

The bill is called Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, and there are a few things you should know about it.

First, it's a dead letter. Gun-shy Democrats, smoked by an unthinkable defeat in Massachusetts, and remembering what happened the last time they tried a quarterback sneak on near-amnesty, know that it's a third rail.

Second, the "path to citizenship" is unpopular, according to a new Zogby poll. Among executives, 59 percent support enforcement to encourage illegal immigrants to go home, 30 percent support conditional legalization; 67 percent of small-business owners support enforcement, and 22 percent approve of conditional legalization. And in union households, 58 percent support enforcement while 28 percent like conditional legalization.

Third, the bill does nothing for legal immigrants because they already have full rights, along with their own burdens, such as the time and expense it cost them to come here the right way.

The bill is designed solely for "satisfying the demands of illegal aliens, ethnic special-interest groups and cheap-labor employers," says Bob Dane, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a right-wing group.

Jen Rock, coordinator of the dovish New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, responds that the "violation of being in this country without documents is equal to jaywalking, a civil violation, not a criminal violation,"and that the bill "addresses the needs of having a just labor system, family unity and ensuring that the people who are contributing to our economy are treated the way that all Americans are treated."

Amid a crowd of 40, some holding banners reading "This Is the Only Home My Children Know" and "We Are Not Terrorists, We Are Workers," about a half-dozen speakers, mainly Hispanic, talked about the difficulties and fears they face as "immigrants," but something was missing - a single word they all omitted.

Claudio Grieco, speaking in Spanish, said he had come from Argentina and planned to be here two years, but he liked it, so "I decided to stay." That was 10 years ago, he told me later in fragmented English.

He "decided" to stay. Here's the missing word: Illegally.

Ditto Carmen Guerrero, who said, "I am an immigrant," and called herself a community organizer, and came to Montgomery County from Mexico City.

Illegally. Other speakers, ditto.

All neglected that single word - illegal - while demanding Justicia! from the nation whose laws they willfully ignored. Is there a Spanish word for chutzpah?

In thinking about illegal immigrants, I ask myself:

1. Did they come here voluntarily?

2. Did they know they were breaking the law?

3. Did they know there might be consequences if caught?

If the answer to all three is "yes," and it must be, it's arrogant to demand to change the rules after you have broken the rules.

In 1986, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act that provided amnesty and citizenship to 2.6 million illegal immigrants. We were promised future enforcement and no more illegal immigrants flooding in.

Twenty years later, we have 12 million more illegal immigrants clamoring for another "reform."

HR 4321 makes more promises that I believe the government won't keep. Spanish philosopher George Santayana warned that those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it.

If we have more Justicia, more paths to citizenship, how many illegal immigrants will we have in another 20 years?

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns: