Two weeks ago, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill on a 68-32 vote, with 14 Republicans joining the Democratic majority to send the measure drafted by a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" to the GOP-controlled House.
President Barack Obama pushed for the House to quickly take up the measure that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants living illegally in the country while bolstering security along the Mexican border.
The proposal also includes stronger worker eligibility verification standards and overall border entry-exit controls.
However, House Republicans made clear Wednesday they opposed the comprehensive approach of the Senate and intended to consider the issue in a series of bills that will take months to reach final votes.
In addition, the House GOP caucus was deeply divided on the question of eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with some calling for a path to legal status while others opposed any kind of what they labeled amnesty for those who broke the law.
While House leaders warned the party faced political harm if it failed to act on immigration legislation, a vital issue for Hispanic Americans who comprise the nation's largest minority demographic, the piecemeal approach and divisions over the legalization issue portend a messy and uncertain future for the issue.
Here are five reasons why:
Bipartisanship necessary in Senate, not the House.
A 60-vote majority is needed to push major legislation through the 100-member Senate, which means Senate Democrats and Republicans usually have to work together to get anything substantive accomplished.
The House, however, does not often require such a super-majority. As long as a simple majority sticks together, it can do virtually anything it pleases.
Mix that rule with increasing ideological orthodoxy and a decreasing willingness to compromise -- particularly within the conservative ranks of the majority House GOP -- and you have a recipe for stalemate with the Democratic-controlled Senate.
"Passing any version of the Gang of Eight's bill would be worse public policy than passing nothing," conservative pundits Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry argued Tuesday in National Review Online. "House Republicans can do the country a service by putting a stake through its heart."
In today's hyper-partisan political climate, doing nothing is the easiest path for House Republicans to take and even a bragging point for tea party conservatives who came to Washington to shake up the status quo.
While moderate House GOP leaders call for passing some kind of immigration legislation to avoid a potential political backlash, conservatives in the rank-and-file say such fears are unfounded as voters will reward Republicans for opposing what they call a bad Senate bill.
Republicans don't trust Obama on border security.
Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp might have said it best. The two-term conservative Republican tweeted Wednesday that "trusting Obama (with) border security is like trusting Bill Clinton (with) your daughter."
Virtually every congressional Republican says the Mexican border needs to be properly enforced before Democrats get their priority -- a path to citizenship for America's 11 million undocumented residents. Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, and John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, added billions for Mexican border security to the "Gang of Eight" bill.
For a lot of Republicans, though, the issue involves trust, not money. They remember the last major immigration reform effort, in 1986 under GOP President Ronald Reagan, that also called for tightened immigration controls while giving three million undocumented immigrants legal status.
They say the amnesty occurred but the tougher border controls didn't, leading to the much-worse situation today.
Now they don't trust Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to secure the border. They also claim Obama's recent decision to delay implementation of part of health care reform showed the administration can't be counted on to fully enforce any law.
By taking a piecemeal approach, House Republicans hope to secure the tougher border security they seek before acting on a separate plan that could provide legal status for at least some undocumented immigrants.
In short, pass a border security bill now, and then come back to the legalization issue once everyone agrees the border is sealed. Democrats reject such an approach.
The conundrum of citizenship/legalization
While the Senate measure provides a multi-year path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, House Republicans made clear Wednesday they remained split about 50-50 on the matter.