Hoyer favors Obama's immigration plan over Senate's

Hoyer's position aligns him with President Obama as lawmakers tread carefully into the immigration-reform debate that's sure to consume a great deal of Capitol Hill's political oxygen this year.

"It's somewhat a subject[ive] judgment whether the borders are secure or not secure," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. "Nobody believes that the borders in a democratic, open country are ever going to be totally non-porous.

"I think the two [citizenship and security] are related," he added, "but ought not to be contingent upon the other."

Often a third rail in Washington, the issue of immigration reform has moved near the top of Congress's priority list this year largely as a result of November's elections, in which more than 70 percent of Hispanic voters chose Obama over GOP contender Mitt Romney.

Hoping to undercut that trend, Republicans – long opposed to comprehensive reform, particularly so-called "amnesty" provisions that would carve a pathway to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants – have appeared much more open to an overhaul since the election.

Last week, a bipartisan group of influential senators unveiled a sweeping package that would bolster border security and guest worker programs – both desired by Republicans – while creating a pathway to citizenship for those living in the country illegally, a demand from the Democrats.

The Senate's plan would make the citizenship benefits “contingent upon securing the border" – a step Obama rejected when he outlined a similar plan a few days later.

The House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the thorny subject Tuesday, with the Senate vowing to follow later this month.

Hoyer said Tuesday that he's hopeful Congress will send a comprehensive reform bill to Obama this year.

"The Democrats want to see a comprehensive immigration bill, [and] I think the Republicans, frankly, think they need to be supportive of a comprehensive immigration bill," he said. "So combine the wants and the needs [and] I think there are good prospects."