A group of House Republicans on Wednesday warned President Obama that they would reject his efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform because, they said, it would ultimately hurt American workers already struggling with a shrinking job market and declining wages.
"So-called comprehensive immigration reform may be a good deal for big businesses that want to reduce labor costs, and it may be a good deal for progressive labor unions seeking new workers from abroad," the 16 lawmakers wrote, "but it's an awful deal for U.S. workers, including African-American and Hispanic communities enduring chronically high unemployment."
The letter -- signed by Reps. Mo Brooks, of Alabama, Lou Parletta, of Pennsylvania, and 14 others -- rejects a Senate-passed reform bill that would impose sweeping changes on the nation's immigration system, including the legalization of millions of illegal immigrants already living in the U.S.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the House GOP on Wednesday that he intends to take a more piecemeal approach to reform and would soon take up individual bills likely to include border security improvements as well as provisions to increase the influx of low- and high-skilled immigrant workers, according to GOP aides.
Some aides raised concerns that Boehner may not bring up the immigration bills until after the filing deadlines for Republican primary races have passed so that the issue doesn't fuel conservative challenges to Republican incumbents.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for immigration reform and has vowed to work with Republicans to get it passed this year.
"We're determined to make 2014 the year immigration reform gets enacted," Chamber President Tom Donohue said in his annual address on the state of American business.
Immigration reforms could deeply divide the GOP. Conservatives are not only railing against the Senate's all-in-one reform bill but are resisting the piecemeal approach favored by their fellow Republicans in the House. Conservatives worry that the reforms would include a path to legalization for 11 million immigrants now living illegally in the U.S., creating a flood of foreign workers that will make it even more difficult for Americans to find jobs.
Republicans took aim at the nation's high unemployment rate in the letter to Obama.
"The White House has entertained a parade of high-powered business executives to discuss immigration policy, all while shutting out the concerns of everyday wage-earners who overwhelmingly oppose these measures," the lawmakers wrote. "You even released an economic report saying that the 'hospitality and leisure industry' needs 'legislation that would legalize workers in the U.S. and facilitate the lawful employment of future foreign-born workers.' Is it the position of the White House that the hotel industry cannot be asked to find employees from among the legions of unemployed residing here today?"
The letter makes reference to a Washington Examiner column by Byron York that noted that the CEOs seeking an increase in foreign workers, including the pharmaceutical company Merck, have been laying off thousands of people.
"Job number one for Congress should be to reduce the unemployment rolls, get families and communities out of poverty and government dependency, rebuild our deteriorating communities and collapsing middle class, and increase wages for American citizens," the letter to Obama reads. "Your immigration proposals do the exact opposite on every count."