Washington (CNN) - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was cautious Tuesday about whether the House can muster the votes to pass an immigration bill before the upcoming midterm elections.
"We'll have to see," the Maryland Democrat said at his weekly meeting with reporters. "We'll have to see what the Senate can do."
Because the last major effort to overhaul immigration in 2007 fell apart in the Senate and there are currently so many other bills passed by the House that still await Senate action, Hoyer said there's an agreement among leaders to see what kind of legislation can pass in the Senate before the House tackles the controversial issue. So, the leading Democrat said, it's up to the Senate to take the lead on crafting a new proposal.
While Hoyer said there is agreement on the need for stronger enforcement at the borders, he conceded that there is division within Democratic ranks about how to deal with undocumented immigrants already in the county. Hoyer said he supports a comprehensive bill that includes stronger enforcement measures for border security, penalties for those in the country illegally, and a path toward citizenship.
The House Majority Leader also criticized current federal enforcement efforts at the border, telling reporters he agrees with those in Arizona who pushed for a new law to crack down on the flow of illegal immigrants into the state.
"In part, of course, what the people of Arizona are saying is that the feds haven't done their job. I think they're right: the feds haven't done their job," he said.
But the Maryland Democrat criticized the new state law's enforcement mechanism.
"I think the law that was passed was a law that was very inconsistent with past practices in America that we don't go around asking people for I.D. cards."
He added, "the troubling thing about Arizona is that it's very difficult to see how that's going to be carried out in a way that's consistent with the civil liberties of citizens – very difficult to see how law enforcement officers are going to interpret - how they're going to have probable cause or reason to believe other than ethnic appearance."
Noting that the president has been focused on health care and financial regulatory reform, Hoyer sidestepped a question about whether President Obama needs to be more engaged in order to bridge Democratic differences on immigration.
"So the President is, I think is focused on issues as they come up, but he's said repeatedly he's for comprehensive immigration reform and he'd like to see it move."