On May 23, Farm Press spoke with Kristi Boswell, American Farm Bureau Federation director of congressional relations, about the immigration reform developments. Among her comments:

On the Goodlatte House agriculture guest-worker legislation…

“We’re very appreciative of Chairman Goodlatte for taking these steps in the House and starting a very important discussion. He recognizes agriculture’s unique needs and has listened to our concerns and tried to address them in his bill (H.R. 1773).

“Officially, we’re still waiting to see how everything plays out in the House. But it’s a positive first step.”

There are rumblings that some of the leadership in the House, rather than do a comprehensive immigration reform bill, want to break it up into pieces. Is that your understanding?

“It’s still up in the air. There’s the (‘Group of Eight’) that is bipartisan and working together on a comprehensive bill. Late last week, they reported having an agreement in principle and are putting it together in legislative language.

“Then, there is a sense that some members would be more comfortable doing it piece by piece and debating each issue individually.

“So, it’s still unclear how everything will unfold in the House. We do feel positive that there’s an appetite (for immigration reform) and that’s why (Goodlatte’s work) is very helpful. But at the end of the day, our goal is to get something that will come out of the House with full support that can go to conference.”

What about worker cap numbers in both the House and Senate? The senate proposal would bring in just north of 112,000 workers a year. Some lawmakers – including Goodlatte -- are calling for at least 500,000. Does the AFBF have a hard number you’re aiming for?

“From our policy stance, we don’t support caps.

“However, there are political realities we’re facing. When we were in Senate negotiations with the United Farm Workers Union it was clear that a cap was a reality. So, we wanted to make sure the cap would meet our needs and could be increased in emergency situation. And in the long run – which is really where our focus for the guest-worker program lies – there must be an annual determination by the Secretary of Agriculture.

“That’s how the Senate bill weighs it out. The 112,000 is a compounding cap – so, it’s actually 337,000 in a five-year period. From five years on, it will be an annual determination.

“I think there’s a question about what is the ideal number. No one knows what our needs will be and how many workers will remain in agriculture that are currently in the field. It’s a matter of finding a balance and providing safeguards.”

On the Senate bill coming out of the Judiciary Committee…

“The bill was introduced in late April and the Judiciary Committee began to hold hearings. Almost 300 amendments were filed in the committee process. Through five full days and into the evening of mark-up sessions, the committee worked through about 150 amendments.

“I commend (Vermont) Sen. Pat Leahy, chairman of the committee, for his leadership. Everyone had their time and fully talked and debated while he kept the process moving.”  

On the time frame for immigration reform legislation moving on Capitol Hill…

“We’ve heard that (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid wants to have this bill on the floor in June. So, if it doesn’t happen the first week after (the Memorial Day) recess, then it should happen shortly after.

“I expect it to be on the Senate floor for as long as it takes. I think (Reid) is committed to giving it ample time so long as the discussion remains productive. Hopefully, before the July 4 recess, we’ll have an outcome on the bill in the Senate.

“In the House, the ‘Gang of Eight’ still hasn’t released legislative language. I expect that will happen in early June. Farm Bureau met with (Goodlatte) this week and he indicated he’s ready to start the process. The House will probably experience a more methodical process with the bill than in the Senate.”