The House of Representatives on Tuesday will take its first concrete steps this year toward addressing comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that has traditionally failed to gain traction in the lower chamber.
Momentum toward overhauling the nation's immigration laws is at its highest in years, with President Barack Obama and a group of bipartisan senators unveiling their plans last week. Both contain a path to citizenship for many of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Those types of proposals are expected to face an upward climb in the Republican-controlled House. GOP lawmakers have staunchly opposed a path to citizenship for years, dismissing it as "amnesty." But there are also signs that the mood has shifted on immigration. Many Republican leaders have called on their members to shift their tone on the issue after the November election, in which the GOP failed to attract enough Latino and immigrant voters to win at the presidential level.
The House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on immigration reform on Tuesday morning. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the judiciary panel and a long-time opponent of a path to citizenship, has said he is open to considering a wide range of proposals to reshape the immigration system, including the president's and the Senate's, but he's wary of plans that contain a broad path to citizenship.
"When [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] says there has to be a path to citizenship, I wonder whether he's serious about doing immigration reform," Goodlatte told USA Today on Monday. "You have to come at this with a willingness to look at all the options and find the common ground."
Goodlatte, however, said that he would consider proposals that find a middle ground between a broad pathway to citizenship and mass deportation. He expressed openness toward the plan put forth by the Senate, which would allow eligible undocumented immigrants to apply for permanent legal status only after the border is deemed secure.
"What the Senate is working on, we'll be interested in looking at," he said, adding that he wants real assurances on border security before considering any kind of legalization for undocumented immigrants.
Tuesday's hearing is only one sign that the House may be prepared to act on immigration reform. A secret bipartisan group of congressmen, which has worked in parallel to a group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, is reportedly close to reaching an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, according to The Hill newspaper.
Republican leaders in the House have also remained open to addressing immigration reform, although they have been coy about how exactly they will handle the issue. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is expected to speak about his views on immigration and other issues in a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday afternoon.
"While we are a nation that allows anyone to start anew, we are also a nation of laws, and that's what makes tackling the issue of immigration reform so difficult," he will say, according to excerpts provided by his office. "We must balance respect for the rule of law and respect for those waiting to enter this country legally, with care for people and families, most of whom just want to make a better life, and contribute to America."