"Why in the world would we want to change the subject to comprehensive immigration reform," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La., who called it a "suicide mission" for the GOP.
Aside from election hopes and concerns, some of the deep-seated opposition on immigration stems from Obama's willingness in the past year to waive or suspend parts of his health care law and his pronouncement in his State of the Union speech that he would bypass Congress on some issues.
"There is a trust gap that is a major obstacle," Diaz-Balart said.
Still, the business community, advocacy groups and other proponents are optimistic about House action this year, with many in the GOP arguing that it was imperative to eliminate a major political drag on the party ahead of the next presidential election.
A White House official said the details of a legalization plan would be crucial and administration support could hinge on whether those given legal status would have the option to eventually become citizens. Still, the official said the White House was buoyed by Republican progress on the issue and will be watching to see if the GOP might be willing to move closer to the president on citizenship and other aspects of the legislation.
Administration and congressional officials have suggested that Republicans could put legislation on the House floor in late March or early April.
The House principles set out by Boehner say "there will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws — that would be unfair to those immigrants who have played by the rules and harmful to promoting the rule of law."
Still that wouldn't preclude millions from trying to obtain permanent legal residence, often known as a green card, through sponsorship by an employer or adult child. Those individuals could later seek citizenship.
The House principles "say no special pathway. It doesn't say no pathway," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told reporters.
While strong majorities of Hispanics continue to back a pathway to citizenship, a Pew Research Center poll in December found that being able to live and work in the U.S. legally without the threat of deportation was more important to Latinos, by 55 percent to 35 percent.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Washington and David Espo in Cambridge, Md., contributed to this report.
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