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A bipartisan group of House negotiators is even further along in drafting a comprehensive immigration overhaul than its counterpart in the Senate, but the path to passage in the lower chamber is lined with thorns.

Republican House leaders from Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) on down have not decided how to handle the vexing issue, even as they have voiced general support for “addressing” it in 2013.

For now, Boehner and his lieutenants are keeping a watchful eye both on the Senate and a secretive band of reformers in the House, whose work the Speaker himself thrust into the open during a speech to the Ripon Society last month.

That group, sources say, is trying to release a draft bill directly before or after President Obama’s State of the Union address on Feb. 12. Releasing an actual legislative text would put the House group out in front of the coalition of eight Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, who issued only a five-page framework of principles on Jan. 28.

Yet how fast that legislation would move through the lower chamber remains an equally important question.

The new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), signaled in an interview that the panel would move at a deliberate pace on immigration, in part because Republican leaders need to educate more than 100 first- and second-term members who Goodlatte said “know very little” about the complexities of immigration law.

Goodlatte is holding the panel’s first full hearing on immigration on Tuesday — the first of what he told The Hill would be a “long series of hearings” on the issue. Those hearings are likely to precipitate the marking up of any legislation, although the chairman did not rule out the possibility that bills would move faster.

“We’re going to be aggressively pursuing the issue to see if we can do something that is — I won’t call it all-encompassing — but that encompasses a number of the different issues that are addressed in immigration,” Goodlatte said.