House GOP leaders unveiled their broad immigration principles last week that gave hope to advocates and the Obama administration that the first changes in the nation's laws in three decades might happen in the coming months.
Immigration legislation is one of the top priorities for Obama's second term.
But several of the conservatives were adamant that the House should do nothing on the issue this year, a midterm election year when the GOP is angling to gain six seats in the Senate and seize majority control. Democrats currently have a 55-45 advantage but are defending more seats, including ones in Republican-leaning states."I think it's a mistake for us to have an internal battle in the Republican Party this year about immigration reform," Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, told reporters at a gathering of conservatives. "I think when we take back the Senate in 2014 one of the first things we should do next year after we do certain economic issues, I think we should address the immigration issue."
Labrador's comments were noteworthy as he was one of eight House members working on bipartisan immigration legislation last year. He later abandoned the negotiations.
"This is not an issue that's ready for prime time to move legislatively," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who said Republicans should use the principles to begin a dialogue with Hispanics.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said the House should focus on the four bills dealing with security that the Judiciary Committee approved last summer. Absent any action on those bills, Jordan said it would be tough to do any immigration legislation this year.
The definitive statements from the conservatives came as Douglas Elmendorf, the head of the Congressional Budget Office, told a House panel that the comprehensive, Senate-passed immigration bill would have a positive impact on the nation's finances.
The Senate last June passed a bipartisan bill that would tighten border security, provide enforcement measures and offer a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.
The measure has stalled in the House where Speaker John Boehner and other leaders have rejected a comprehensive approach in favor of a bill-by-bill process.
Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee that a CBO analysis "found that that legislation would reduce budget deficits and lead to a larger economy and over time lead to higher output per person in this country."
Specifically, he said additional workers, especially high-skilled, highly educated employees, would increase the nation's tax revenues.
The House leaders' broad principles would tighten border and interior security, establish a verification system for employers and legalize some of the 11 million immigrants. It would not provide a special path to citizenship to those living here illegally, though it would give children brought to the country by their parents a shot a citizenship.
Conservatives have said they distrust Obama to enforce any new law, citing his waivers and suspensions of provisions on the health care law.
Boehner said Tuesday that Republicans were discussing "whether we should proceed, if we proceed and how we would proceed. It's also clear from our members that we believe that securing our borders has to be the first step in this process."
But he added that conversations are continuing and "no decision's been made."
Further tamping down any optimism for legislation this year was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who told reporters that differences between the Senate's comprehensive approach and the House's piecemeal strategy were an "irresolvable conflict."
"I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place," McConnell told reporters.