As House Republicans headed to Maryland's eastern shore to discuss their immigration reform principles, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi drew a bright line on the most contentious issue in the debate, insisting, "In our caucus, there has to be path to citizenship."
House Speaker John Boehner and a group of top Republican leaders, including GOP 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, are expected to release a set of principles this week to chart the party's strategy forward on immigration legislation.
Boehner has said he plans to move forward on the issue, but there are deep divisions among House Republicans about how to deal with the approximately 11 million undocumented workers currently living in the United States.
While some Republicans and groups supporting major reform argue it will grow the economy by enlarging the work force, some party conservatives strongly disagree, arguing unemployment could go up if there is an influx of new immigrants.
"Many of us...oppose tackling the issue of amnesty right now," Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, a major opponent of enacting comprehensive reform right now, told CNN.
Opponents call a path to legalization for those 11 million amnesty. He believes a majority of House Republicans will not support major reform right now as he and others work to persuade the leadership now is not the time to move forward.
Staffs of 15 House conservatives met with aides to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, a vocal opponent of comprehensive reform, last week to help focus on the best arguments against moving forward and how to counter the push by proponents, several sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.
Sessions' staff circulated a 30-page memo to all House Republicans on Wednesday laying out economic, political and moral arguments against comprehensive reform.
"House Republicans, in crafting immigration principles, should reply to the President's immigration campaign with a simple message: our focus is to help unemployed Americans get back to work -- not grant amnesty or to answer the whims of immigration activists and CEOs," reads part of the memo obtained by CNN.
"Significantly increasing the inflow of immigrants would adversely shock an already weak economy, lower average wages, increase unemployment, and decrease each American's share of national output," also states the memo.
Groups supporting a major overhaul, including the Center for American Progress, countered the memo from Sessions' office with their own projecting immigration reform would increase the nation's growth rate and reduce the deficit.
The House Republican leaders are expected to present data with similar results on Thursday to the members at the retreat while opponents increase their efforts.
"The last thing we want to have is an intramural battle within our party on immigration," Fleming said. "It is going to be a rational discussion, a family discussion about what is best for America."
Many members say going on the record approving any plan to grant citizenship opens them up to primary challenges from candidates on the right who are adamantly opposed to major immigration legislation.
According to GOP sources familiar with the draft principles Boehner is crafting, they will propose a path to citizenship for children of undocumented parents in the U.S. now, but for adults House Republicans will say they should be eligible for legal status to stay in the country, not citizenship.
Pelosi dismissed that approach.
"We're not a country that says do our work but you can only have a limited legal status in our country," she said.
Fleming also dismissed that idea. "If you start any form of legal pathway in any direction you will end up" giving citizenship to many of them he argued.
One freshman House Democrat, Rep. Juan Vargas, D-California, said earlier this month he could accept a bill without citizenship, but Pelosi said he was an "odd person out."
Pelosi said she spoke to Boehner, and he assured her the new GOP outline "will be good" and that the new proposals "will be acceptable to probably all of us, and I hope that is the case."
But while she signaled House Democrats were open to a different path to citizenship than the one that was part of the bipartisan Senate bill that passed last year, Pelosi reiterated her opposition to efforts by the House GOP to push a measure that didn't include eventual citizenship.
"It wouldn't be second class citizens, because they wouldn't be citizens. They would be second class residents of our country. I just can't subscribe to that. That's not where our caucus is, nor our supporters on this issue," Pelosi said.