With election year politics starting to darken hopes, more than 600 business and agriculture groups signed a letter in late February asking for Congressional action on immigration reform.

The letter, with support from the United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers and other fruit and vegetable associations, said proposed standards supported by Republicans are encouraging. Immigration reform can deter illegal immigration, protect and improve the U.S. workforce and boost the economy, according to the letter.

“Failure to act is not an option. We cannot afford to be content and watch a dysfunctional immigration system work against our overall national interest,” according to the letter.

Kristi Boswell, director of Congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C., said the path to immigration reform is not easy.

Boswell said Farm Bureau and other groups are focusing on raising the energy on the issue with a grass roots effort called the #Ifarmimmigration campaign.

“We need to keep educating members who have concerns on immigration on why it is such an important economic need and hopefully that can push the lever over and we can see it happen this year,” she said.

If House Republicans offer an immigration bill, it is likely to be a package of piece-by-piece immigration legislation that will be voted on separately, she said.

At the Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington, D.C., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Feb. 20 press conference that agriculture’s workforce instability jeopardizes the country’s ability to operate to its full potential in agriculture. Despite the political obstacles, Vilsack said he is believes immigration reform will happen this year.