Immigration reform - a topic of special importance to many Wisconsin farmers - appears to be the horizon in Congress.
Several members of Congress from the a so-called "Gang of Eight," who are brokering a comprehensive immigration reform bill, made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows to talk about the measure.
Although several deadlines for the rollout of the bill have already been missed, Washington observers said the bill was likely to be unveiled on Tuesday (April 16) in a press conference.
A first hearing of the measure was scheduled for later in the week in the Senate Judiciary Committee with another already scheduled for next week.
The bill reportedly will include the opportunity for certain qualified undocumented immigrants to get probationary legal status for 10 years before becoming eligible to apply for a visa (green card.)
The proposed measure will also include certain U.S. border security criteria be met before the extension of probationary legal status would be granted to undocumented immigrants.
There are currently an estimated 11 billion undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
According to several published reports, the bill will include a number of border security measures that must be in place before undocumented people could get into the probationary program. One of those requirements would be a fully detailed border security plan and a completed fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The measure is likely to include mandatory employer verification of all workers.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who has taken the lead in promoting the bill, will need to sell the package to his GOP colleagues who have consistently opposed comprehensive immigration reform.
According to the Associated Press, the bill would require undocumented immigrants to prove they were in the United States before Dec. 31, 2011. Anyone who arrived after that date would be excluded from the plan.
Those who wanted to join in the 10-year probationary plan on the way to a green card would have to prove they have no criminal record and that they have enough job stability to stay off welfare.
The finalization of an immigration reform bill comes only days after a coalition of agriculture groups announced they had worked out several issues with key Senators and the United Farm Workers organization.
The coalition of farm groups had organized earlier this year as the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) to push Congress toward comprehensive immigration reform.
That group reached an agreement with the United Farm Workers, for a framework on ag labor Friday (April 12.)
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a member of the coalition, said these successful negotiations "will help provide America's farmers and ranchers a much needed legal labor supply, while paving the way for many farm and ranch workers to obtain legal status.
"We appreciate the tireless efforts of Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Michael Bennett (D-CO) to garner consensus and agreement by all parties on such a significant issue," Stallman said.
"The framework and objectives established today are a positive step toward achieving meaningful immigration reform."
Stallman said that ensuring access to a legal workforce is a high priority for AFBF and he was pleased with this "first step in the process."
Jerry Kozak, President and Chief Operating Officer of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) - another member of AWC - said Friday that he was pleased with the agreement on immigration reform that was hammered out by the coalition, United Farm Workers and the key Senators.
"The framework and objectives of this agreement represent a positive step toward providing America's dairy farmers with access to a legal workforce now and in the future," Kozak said.
The coalition is committed to including an agricultural guest worker program and supporting this general negotiated framework in any final immigration reform package, Kozak said.
"As members of Congress begin the process of drafting legislative language, we look forward to working with them to ensure that the bill details reflect the goals and intent of this framework agreement."
For many farmers across the country, Kozak said, finding a sufficient number of workers to harvest crops or care for animals is the biggest challenge they face in running their businesses.
"There is a shortage of U.S. workers willing and able to perform farm work. Securing a reliable and competent workforce for our nation's farms and ranches is essential to ensuring that American consumers continue to enjoy abundant and affordable food on their grocery store shelves."
Additional information on the AWC can be found on its website www.agworkforcecoalition.org
NEW DEMOCRAT COALITION
Rep. Ron Kind, (D-WI) said that the United State needs "sensible and comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, provides a pathway to citizenship and keeps families together."
As a Wisconsin Congressman and leader of the New Democrat Coalition, he said he's working in Congress to fight for fair immigration reform "because any pathway that's too long or burdensome isn't really a pathway at all."
The New Democrat Coalition, a group of Democrats with a moderate, free-trade pro-growth agenda, was created to fill a void created by the decline of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderates from the party.
The new coalition chose Kind as chair.
In pursuit of immigration reform, he said, "we must remember that we all want the same things regardless of where we're from. We all want the best possible life for our children and the chance to work hard and earn a living wage.
"We're seeking immigration reform because together we can make America a better place to live and work."