The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday held a preliminary hearing to examine efforts to overhaul the nation's immigrations laws, launching the chamber's first public efforts on the issue this year.
The House effort came 8 days after a bipartisan group of senators released a blueprint for reform that would legalize most of the country's illegal immigrants. President Barack Obama has also called for a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants curerenly living in the U.S.
That goal faces a steeper climb in the Republican-controlled House.
At Tuesday's hearing, several Republicans expressed skepticism about legalizing that group and about other proposals and ideas publicly floated since the Senate began looking at ways to reform the immigration system.
(During the hearing, in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, spoke in favor of new laws that would grant a path to legality to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents as children—but stopped short of embracing a path for all illegal immigrants.)
Overall, however, the committee seemed a positive first step, as lawmakers from both parties expressed a willingness to discuss how best to overhaul the current system.
"I think we have a general consensus about the ways we can do a better job," said Committee Ranking Member Rep. John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan. He pointed to border security measures as the issue "we most easily can agree on."
But Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, warned those demanding immediate action that the committee would work "methodically" and suggested that the process would take months before a bill takes shape.
Over the course of the hearing, members voiced their concerns.
Democrats urged their fellow committee members to join them in supporting a wide-ranging bill over "piece-meal" legislation, echoing President Barack Obama's call for a comprehensive package. California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Immigration, insisted the final bill must include provisions ensuring that families with members living in two countries aren't broken up and cautioned that a bill that did not provide a clear and rapid path to citizenship would create "a permanent underclass."
Republicans on the panel, meanwhile, voiced concerns over the possibility that the bill would not fully quell illegal immigration in the future. Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes wondered if Congress would be required to pass another bill for illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. after the bill's passage. "Should we be prepared to write a new path of citizenship for them?" he asked.
Both Republican and Democratic leaders in the House welcomed the progress in the committee, signalling a further bipartisan openness to an overhaul. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, declined to endorse specific proposals, but encouraged "both sides of the capitol and both parties to continue talking to one another so they can find a solution."