Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters Monday that border security will come before legalization.
"The American people expect that we'll have strong border security in place before we begin the process of legalizing and fixing our legal immigration system," the Ohio Republican said.
Conservatives have complained that the Senate's immigration bill would effectively legalize the 11 million people estimated to be in the United States illegally before new border security measures are implemented.
Asked what specifically Boehner meant when he said "legalizing and fixing our immigration system," Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, said Boehner was "just stressing the importance of securing the border and getting the interior enforcement system working first."
Boehner also said the House will act and noted he will talk with the Republican Conference to chart a path forward.
"We're going to have a conversation with our members Wednesday on how we would move ahead. We have a broken immigration system. We have undocumented workers here in record numbers. We just can't turn a blind eye to this problem and think it's going to go away. It is time for Congress to act. But I believe the House has its job to do, and we will do our job."
Earlier Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urged Boehner to ditch the "Hastert rule" and take up the Senate immigration bill — something Boehner has vowed not to do — as well as the Senate farm bill.
"Eventually he will be forced to take up a more bipartisan measure — or the country will be left with no immigration reform at all, the worst possible outcome," Reid said. "The Speaker should dispense with the posturing and delay, and do the right thing now. Take up the Senate farm bill now. Take up the Senate immigration bill now."
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.