Cotton, a rising GOP star who's likely to run against Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.), says the bill "undermines the rule of law without solving the country's illegal-immigration problem," and promises the House will reject the Senate's "flawed structure, which is best described as: legalization first, enforcement later . . . maybe."

The strongly worded opinion piece, coming on the heels of the freshman lawmaker's vocal criticism of the bill during a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Wednesday, is the first sign that he'll take a prominent role in the immigration debate. Cotton has largely stayed quiet on immigration until now, focusing more on national defense and economic issues, and draws a clear contrast between him and Pryor, who voted for the Senate bill.

It also is the latest sign of how far apart the House and Senate are on immigration. Cotton is a well-respected voice within the House Republican conference, and his strident opposition to giving illegal immigrants legal status in the U.S. before securing the border likely means that formula will struggle to win approval from enough other House Republicans to pass through the chamber.

"The American people rightly doubt that the government will finally enforce immigration laws. Thus the best solution is to abandon the Senate bill's flawed framework and proceed with an enforcement-first approach that assures Americans that the border is secure and immigration laws are being enforced. The House is already pursuing that goal with committee-approved bills such as the Legal Workforce Act, which expedites the employment-verification system, and the SAFE Act, which empowers local and state law-enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws," Cotton continues.

"If the full House approves such bills, they should be sent directly to the Senate for consideration. They should not be handed to a conference committee so that they can be reconciled with the Senate bill — the Senate and House measures are irreconcilable. Instead, the Senate must choose whether it wants common-sense, confidence-building immigration legislation this year," he writes. "If the Senate insists on the legalization-first approach, then no bill will be enacted. Meanwhile, the House will remain focused on addressing ObamaCare, the economy and the national debt — which, after all, Americans overwhelmingly regard as higher priorities than immigration reform."