For all the Republican blather about passing reform piecemeal rather than in a giant comprehensive bill, there’s really no way for them to separate legalization from border enforcement. If they pass something on security alone, the pressure on them from conservatives not to take up legalization unless and until there are measurable improvements on the border will be tremendous. And of course, those improvements may never come, which would leave the party stuck between amnesty shills who want legalization irrespective of what’s happening on the border and border hawks who want legalization off the table until the feds have proved they have illegal immigration under control. That’s an impossible political position and Boehner knows it.

Which is why, even in a piecemeal scheme, security and legalization are a package deal.

The one-page document is being developed by House Speaker John Boehner’s office in conjunction with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and others in the Republican House leadership. It contains few details but voices support for the major planks of the comprehensive bill that cleared the Senate last summer. That includes increased border security, stepped-up employment verification, a temporary worker program for low-skilled workers, more visas for high-technology workers and a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, according to two people who have seen a draft.

These measures would be considered as individual pieces of legislation, not as one big bill, though some pieces might be combined — such as enforcement and legalization.

The document also expresses support for legal status for undocumented immigrants and envisions some sort of legal process by which they admit guilt and pay fines and any back taxes owed. It will also insist that no legalization provisions take effect until border security and other enforcement measures are in place, people familiar with the draft said.

Read that last sentence again. We’ll need to see the language of the principles themselves to know for sure, but the way the Journal phrases that makes it sound like they’re not going to condition legalization upon actual improvements at the border. Whether the new security measures work or not is beside the point; once they’re in place, success or fail, it’s full speed ahead on legal status. That’s marginally better than the Gang of Eight bill, which offered illegals probationary legal status once a mere plan for new border security is in place, but the whole point of the “enforcement first” approach by border hawks is that we need firm proof this time after the debacle of the 1986 amnesty that the next round of security will actually work. We’re not getting that if the Journal’s version of the principles is accurate. What we’re getting, essentially, is a promise to give it the ol’ college try. You trust Republicans and, especially, Democrats to do their darnedest to stem the flow, don’t you?

One more bit of good news:

Legislation is being developed by House Republicans that wouldn’t exclude citizenship for those here illegally. But it rejects what many Republicans see as a “special path” not available to would-be immigrants who didn’t break the law. Rather, after people win legal status they could apply for green cards, the same as any other legal immigrant.

The Gang of Eight bill did create a special path; the House, mindful that grassroots conservatives hold it to a higher standard because of its tea-party membership, can’t get away with that. But they’re also not going to foreclose the possibility of citizenship. They’re punting, essentially, with a promise that citizenship won’t be easy and it won’t come soon but that it might come someday. (Sooner than you expect, probably, given the political pressure that’ll begin immediately upon passage to make citizenship quicker and easier.) The point here, as is always, always true of Republican immigration reform efforts, isn’t to produce good policy, it’s to produce something that will allow the GOP to woo Latino voters in 2016 while minimizing the backlash among conservatives at the same time. This is about salesmanship, not border enforcement. All the left really wants from this process is legalization without meaningful conditions; they can get everything else later, including citizenship, by demagoging Republicans for hating Latinos or whatever, but right now they want a foot in the door for illegals to give them a permanent presence. And that’s what Boehner’s going to give them, albeit dressed up with token panders to tea partiers about the lack of a path to citizenship or the application of new border security measures whose actual utility is basically irrelevant. I have to say, I honestly don’t know why we even resist at this point. They’re going to do this. They’re convinced that they’re dead on arrival in 2016 if they don’t have a shiny object to show Latinos, so they’re going to produce that object whether their base likes it or not. The base will turn out regardless, if only to Beat the Democrat on election day. There’s virtually no leverage here. I wish it were otherwise, believe me.