WASHINGTON -- Influential House conservatives signaled Thursday that they will pursue their own course on revising the nation's immigration laws, a move that some lawmakers warned could derail a comprehensive overhaul that President Barack Obama has made a top priority for his second term.
A week after a bipartisan Senate group introduced an 844-page immigration proposal backed by the White House, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he would chart a narrower path by introducing several small-scale immigration proposals this week that will take months of negotiations to resolve.
The announcement was the latest indication of the widening battle among Republicans over what to do about the country's immigration system and marks perhaps the most serious political challenge to emerge.
Leading conservatives have begun to seek ways to delay and, potentially, defeat the push for the legislation, which includes a path to citizenship for up to 11 million illegal immigrants. Mr. Goodlatte's measures are expected to be more conservative than those included in the bipartisan Senate deal.
The critics' strategy has come into increasing focus since the Senate plan became public last week, with groups and lawmakers on the right vowing to draw out the debate and offer time for opposition to grow. The emerging coalition is working to step up the political pressure on the measure's most prominent Republican sponsor, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential presidential contender in 2016.
"This process can be long, but it allows every representative and senator to have their constituents' voices heard," said Mr. Goodlatte, a former immigration lawyer who opposes allowing a path to citizenship. "And by taking a fine-toothed comb through each of the individual issues within the larger immigration debate, it will help us get a better bill that will benefit Americans and provide a workable immigration system."
The split among the GOP's conservative wing has set up a difficult political calculation for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who must decide whether to risk angering the Republican base or allow extended debate that could imperil the legislation. Thursday's developments indicate that Mr. Boehner has decided to let the issue play out rather than pushing for a deal closer to the emerging Senate agreement.
The move alarmed Democrats who have hoped that the chances are good for broad immigration legislation because GOP leaders want to expand the party's appeal among Latinos, who overwhelmingly backed Mr. Obama last fall. Immigration opponents defeated similar legislation in the Senate in 2007 by delaying and amending it.