With House Republicans set for their big meeting this afternoon to figure out the way forward on immigration, Nancy Pelosi sends a letter to John Boehner containing a warning: Dems view a path to citizenship as integral to reform.

The letter — while not all that surprising — is interesting, because it sheds a bit more light on the dilemma the Speaker faces as he seeks to determine whether the House Republican caucus can come together behind any species of immigration reform. Republicans are mulling whether to pass immigration reform through the House in pieces, but Pelosi warns that such an approach will be a nonstarter among Dems unless it is comprehensive.

From the letter:

House Democrats’ priorities for immigration reform are the principles laid out by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, with commitments to secure our borders, protect our workers, unite our families, and provide an earned pathway to citizenship. Each of these elements has bipartisan support. […]
Mr. Speaker: if you decide to take up various elements of comprehensive immigration reform under separate votes, it is essential to remember that those key elements are interconnected and necessary for reform.
Democrats remain hopeful that the House can pass legislation worthy of our best traditions and history. We are ready to act in a bipartisan fashion to get the job done, to afford all immigrants a fair shot at the American Dream, and to make comprehensive immigration reform the law of the land.

The timing of this letter seems clearly chosen: it comes just as Boehner is set to sound out Republicans on what elements of reform they can accept. It seems doubtful that a majority of House Republicans are willing to support a path to citizenship; instead they may seek to pass a series of half measures that fall short of that. Pelosi seems to be saying that Dems won’t cooperate with any such approach unless it includes citizenship.

You can envision a scenario in which House GOP leaders would, indeed, need Democratic support to pass immigration reform. Boehner has ruled out any vote on anything that lacks the support of a majority of Republicans. But you could, I suppose, imagine a scenario in which some combination of enforcement and citizenship has a majority of House Republicans but not enough support to pass without Dems.

The farm bill went down to defeat in part because House Republicans moved the bill so far to the right to win over conservatives that Democrats bolted. Pelosi seems to be warning that the same fate could befall the immigration bill if Republicans can’t find a way to support citizenship with reasonable conditions attached.

It’s also interesting that Pelosi is keeping things vague here. Dems tell me the game plan is not to lay down too firm a marker, because that would give Republicans a way to blame Dems for any failure on their part to embrace citizenship later, by claiming Dems were being unreasonable in their demands. Rather, the idea is to keep the focus squarely on House Republicans and what they can and can’t accept.