By Mike Lillis - 03/19/13 04:44 PM EDT
"I think that they're very close to an agreement," Hoyer said during a press briefing at the Capitol. "So I think that we have a real possibility of moving something this year on comprehensive immigration reform."
Asked whether the group's plan includes a pathway to citizenship, Hoyer said simply, "Yes."
Eight House lawmakers – four from each party – have been meeting secretly in hopes of crafting an immigration-reform plan that can plow through the thorny politics that have blocked similar efforts for many years.
Those talks gained momentum after November's elections, as Latino voters came out for President Obama in a landslide, leading GOP leaders to acknowledge the need to address immigration reform if they hope to attract Hispanic support in the future.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), one of the earliest supporters of moving comprehensive immigration reform post-election, said Tuesday that leaders still have a lot of work to do to get such a bill over the finish line.
“This is just the beginning of the process," Boehner told reporters in the Capitol. "There’s a lot of education that needs to be done, because more than half of our members have never dealt with the issue of immigration reform, both on the legal side and on the illegal side.”
A central sticking point revolves around the question of what to do with the estimated 11-12 million immigrants currently living in the country illegally. Immigration reformers and human rights advocates on and off Capitol Hill are urging the creation of a pathway to citizenship for those people, while a number of conservatives are pushing back, arguing that such a move would grant "amnesty" to those who have broken the law.
Hoyer said Democratic leaders have had "a long discussion" with the Democrats on the informal panel, including Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (Ill.).
"They are close," he said. "I think they've made real progress."
Hoyer said both Boehner and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) "recognize" that "a very large, growing majority of the electorate believes that comprehensive immigration reform is good for the country."
"As a result I think that Republicans feel like that they need to be for such legislation," he said.
Gutierrez, speaking at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, said Tuesday that he won't endorse any bill that excludes a pathway to citizenship.