Immigration reform continues to build momentum in Congress.

As migrant workers are a vital component of the U.S. food and fiber sector, agricultural interests are keen to bend the coming legislation to their best advantage.

Towards that end, in late 2012, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) first floated a proposal to deal with labor needs.

On Tuesday (April 2), Kristi Boswell, AFBF director of congressional relations, spoke with Farm Press about the current mood on the Hill, what would be acceptable for agriculture in the reform legislation and when the debate on immigration will begin in earnest.

Among her comments:

On what’s happening in Congress…

“There’s a lot of energy and things happening on the immigration front in both chambers. There are bipartisan groups — eight senators, eight congressmen — working on comprehensive immigration reform. That includes everything immigration-related: border security enforcement, future foreign guestworker programs for business, for agriculture, for high-skilled workers. It runs the gamut on immigration issues.

“For agriculture specifically, we’re working with champions in those groups on developing the agricultural piece.

“In the Senate, we’re working with California Sen. Diane Feinstein and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet — Democrats — and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — Republicans. Ultimately, what they come up with will be placed in the comprehensive bill.”

Chances on the legislation passing? Harder to pass in the House?

“Not necessarily. The group in the House has been working on this for years, under the radar. They are, from all reports, farther along in drafting legislative language than the Senate.

“Now, politically, I think there are still questions about the route the House will take. Leadership seems to be making public statements supporting the process. But it’s yet to be determined how it will be unveiled. Whether it’s a comprehensive bill or is done piece-by-piece, it will go through regular order. It’ll go through the Judiciary Committee, I believe, and go through mark-ups.

“There is a political appetite to take a bipartisan approach to reform in the House.

“In the Senate, there’s no question that comprehensive immigration reform is the route the lawmakers want to take. They want to put together a package deal that will go through the Judiciary Committee and be debated on the floor.”

If it doesn’t go through in a comprehensive package, you’ll still push for the agricultural piece? Is there any indication that piece will get through regardless?

“Our resources are all focused on the comprehensive side. Both chambers are there — but specifically in the Senate.