Vilsack was unbothered by concerns that immigration reform would actually lead current farmworkers to seek employment outside agriculture. “One thing contained in the Senate (bill) is a set of incentives for folks who are in agriculture to (remain there) for a period of time. (A farmworker) could shorten the time it would take -- and it would take quite a while -- for someone to earn their way to citizenship.

“The other issue that’s often mentioned is these people are taking jobs away from citizens. The bill addresses that by suggesting that before growers can certify the need for an immigrant workforce they’d first have to offer the jobs to citizens.”

Would comprehensive immigration reform mean anything for those trying to enter the United States legally? Visas issued solely for agriculture work?

Vilsack said the current plan would be for a two-step process.

“There are probably 600,000 and 700,000 that have been working in agriculture for a considerable period of time that would love to have a pathway to citizenship. They’d be sort a permanent workforce given permission, in essence, to remain in this country and continue what they’re doing.

“Then, each year, there would be a process where growers would be able to certify through the USDA in concert with the Department of Labor a number of additional workers to supplement and complement the permanent workforce. So, there would be a guest worker program that would provide (the proper balance) of workers. Right now, there is uncertainty and it creates chaos in the marketplace.”

In late April, Iowa Rep. Steve King, an outspoken opponent of immigration reform, said due to the House leadership’s willingness to consider legislation, fellow skeptics must “man the watchtowers 24/7.” Further, King says the issue is being brought up by Democrats largely because it will help them at the ballot box in November and any move toward reform is “political suicide” for Republicans.

Questioned about King, Vilsack would not be drawn in and didn’t respond to King’s comments directly. However, he did needle immigration reform adversaries: “Candidly, it is surprising to me that anybody in public life today – knowing that the deficit would be reduced, knowing that Social Security would be more solvent and with an expanded life expectancy, knowing that the economy could expand by 5 percent over several decades, knowing that border would be secured – would be opposed.

“It’s troublesome and somewhat puzzling to me that House leadership, understanding how good this would be for the country – and, frankly, how good the politics of this will be long-term for both parties – have not yet taken responsibility to get this on the floor and voted on. I’m convinced a majority of the House would pass immigration reform.”