Behold the long-awaited “statement of principles,” hot off the presses at today’s House Republican retreat. There are no surprises, or at least not yet: The statement’s so light on specifics, especially in the crucial final sentence, that it’s impossible to guess how bad the final deal might be.

Although if you guess “pretty bad,” you’re almost certainly on safe ground.

Standards for Immigration Reform

PREAMBLE
Our nation’s immigration system is broken and our laws are not being enforced. Washington’s failure to fix them is hurting our economy and jeopardizing our national security. The overriding purpose of our immigration system is to promote and further America’s national interests and that is not the case today. The serious problems in our immigration system must be solved, and we are committed to working in a bipartisan manner to solve them. But they cannot be solved with a single, massive piece of legislation that few have read and even fewer understand, and therefore, we will not go to a conference with the Senate’s immigration bill. The problems in our immigration system must be solved through a step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures. These are the principals guiding us in that effort.

Border Security and Interior Enforcement Must Come First
It is the fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders, and the United States is failing in this mission. We must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure. In addition, we must ensure now that when immigration reform is enacted, there will be a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future. Faced with a consistent pattern of administrations of both parties only selectively enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, we must enact reform that ensures that a President cannot unilaterally stop immigration enforcement.

Implement Entry-Exit Visa Tracking System
A fully functioning Entry-Exit system has been mandated by eight separate statutes over the last 17 years. At least three of these laws call for this system to be biometric, using technology to verify identity and prevent fraud. We must implement this system so we can identify and track down visitors who abuse our laws.

Employment Verification and Workplace Enforcement
In the 21st century it is unacceptable that the majority of employees have their work eligibility verified through a paper based system wrought with fraud. It is past time for this country to fully implement a workable electronic employment verification system.

Reforms to the Legal Immigration System
For far too long, the United States has emphasized extended family members and pure luck over employment-based immigration. This is inconsistent with nearly every other developed country. Every year thousands of foreign nationals pursue degrees at America’s colleges and universities, particularly in high skilled fields. Many of them want to use their expertise in U.S. industries that will spur economic growth and create jobs for Americans. When visas aren’t available, we end up exporting this labor and ingenuity to other countries. Visa and green card allocations need to reflect the needs of employers and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy.

The goal of any temporary worker program should be to address the economic needs of the country and to strengthen our national security by allowing for realistic, enforceable, usable, legal paths for entry into the United States. Of particular concern are the needs of the agricultural industry, among others. It is imperative that these temporary workers are able to meet the economic needs of the country and do not displace or disadvantage American workers.

Youth
One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, those who know no other place as home. For those who meet certain eligibility standards, and serve honorably in our military or attain a college degree, we will do just that.

Individuals Living Outside the Rule of Law
Our national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law. There will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws – that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law. Rather, these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits). Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the above requirements will not be eligible for this program. Finally, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from here on, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.

As expected, per the “Youth” section, there’ll be a special path to citizenship for DREAMers but not for adult illegals. As for the final line, what sort of enforcement triggers are we talking about here? “No legalization until there’s been a measurable 50 percent drop in illegal immigration over five years” would be a trigger worth considering. “No legalization until DHS submits a border-security plan,” which is basically what the Gang of Eight prescribed, wouldn’t be. There’s a lot of devil in these details.

Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics started tweeting in total mystification after the statement was released as to why the GOP would be pushing amnesty now, of all moments. If they were dead set on doing this before the midterms, he reasoned, why not do it last year, to give conservative anger more time to cool before the big vote? Failing that, why not wait until next year, after the midterms, since no one expects the Latino vote to be decisive this fall? I have no answers to the first question but you know my answer to the second. I think Boehner’s afraid that if they wait another year, until the GOP holds the Senate as well, conservative expectations for a “tough” Republican-written law will be so high that the backlash when they fail to come through will be even more bitter than it’ll be if they do it this year. In fact, as another Twitter buddy speculated, it may be that Boehner expects so many more tea partiers in the House and Senate next year that he feels he has to act now, before they’re seated. If he waits, tea partiers might be strong enough in 2015 to block the sort of bill that his friends in the Chamber of Commerce want written. When push comes to shove, he, Ryan, and the rest of the leadership think conservative/independent anger over ObamaCare will wash away all of their sins come November, including a mortal sin on immigration. Even if they sell you out on this, they figure, you’ll still go to the polls to rebuke Obama for the millions of cancellations and higher premiums that his pet boondoggle has stuck America with. And honestly? I’m not sure they’re wrong.

Update: Good catch by Greg Sargent. There’s no special path to citizenship here for adult illegals, but neither is there anything that would preclude them for applying for green cards and citizenship later on through existing channels. In fact, Paul Ryan signaled yesterday that they would be able to apply. Go figure that the leadership didn’t want to highlight that footnote in their statement.

Update: A detail from immigration discussions at the GOP retreat. I’ll bet:

Another detail: