(June 8) Comprehensive immigration reform may be on life support, but it isn’t dead, said Sharon Hughes, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.

Contacted June 8, the morning after Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., pulled immigration reform legislation from the Senate floor after there was no agreement on how to limit debate and amendments, Hughes said Senate backers are still committed to getting the bill passed.

Reid himself has said the bill may be revisited, she said.

“There are people in the anti-immigration crowd who would love for this to be the death knell, but it isn’t,” she said.

“We can’t keep sweeping immigration under the rug,” Hughes said.

An amendment that would subject some aspects of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform package to a five-year sunset review was approved 49-48 early the morning of June 7. The same amendment, advanced by Sen. Bryon Dorgan, D-S.D., was defeated by one vote in May.

“The sunset provision is a real problem,” said Craig Regelbrugge, senior director of government relations for the American Nursery and Landscape Association, Washington, D.C., and spokesman for the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, on June 7.

“It is foolish to think with all the work to be done and all the legwork to get the programs into place that we will know definitively (in five years) and that the juice will be there to restart the whole engine,” he said.

One encouraging sign for the comprehensive legislation is that the debate has been moved along by a viable coalition of lawmakers understanding the bigger stakes.

“There are so many people who are so deeply invested — I could end up being wrong — but I don’t think they are ready to walk away from it,” Regelbrugge said. “The stakes are too high.”

Meanwhile, the debate in the House of Representatives will be an even bigger mountain, he said.

“The House debate will be tougher, but there is a broad understanding about the need to do something,’ he said.