(April 26) Legislation to pass agricultural worker reform was still alive in late April, with co-sponsors in the Senate nearly reaching the 60-member plateau that would nearly assure action this spring.

The long-sought legislation, the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, referred to as AgJobs, would reform the federal H-2A agricultural guest-worker program.

Allying liberal and conservative lawmakers and immigrant advocacy groups with agricultural employers, the bill would allow undocumented farm workers already working in the U.S. to gain temporary resident immigrant status.

By completing additional agricultural employment, the illegal immigrants could earn permanent resident immigrant status.

“We just need three senators, and we are pulling out all the stops over the next week or two,” Sharon Hughes, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, Washington, D.C., said April 21.

Hughes said she was hopeful for a vote in the Senate by the end of May.

Supporters have been banking on a Senate-first strategy, where a 20- to 25-vote margin for the bill could help overcome resistance to the bill in the House.

In addition, big numbers for the bill in the Senate could change the reluctance by the White House to tackle immigration reform on a piecemeal basis.

One lobbyist, speaking on background, said the White House has previously indicated that if it is going to take shots from critics on immigration reform, it would rather have one comprehensive bill rather than several bills addressing specific sectors like agriculture.

In the House of Representatives, Hughes noted 104 sponsors have been lined up for the legislation. Passing the measure will be more difficult in that chamber.

Some House Republicans have been critical of what they term the amnesty aspects of the bill, fearing a backlash from voters who don’t want to reward lawbreakers.

Hughes said immigrant agricultural workers are taking jobs Americans are not taking.

She said AgJobs should lay the foundation for future consideration of immigration reform.

“If any piece of immigration legislation moves, it will be the AgJobs bill,” Hughes said.