Congress returns this week, and House Republican leaders are expected to release – possibly very early this week — their principles for rewriting the nation’s immigration laws, according to Mike Oscar, writing in the Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives’ NDFC Newsletter.

And, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), House Republicans will then hold an open session during their annual retreat later this week to discuss their legislative approach to immigration reform. House leadership has stated the session is intended to be an open and exhaustive forum to allow all members to put forward any concerns or suggestions before the GOP executes its step-by-step legislative approach to immigration reform.
Republicans want to address the issue in a piecemeal fashion, as opposed to one large bill already introduced in the Senate (S. 744). According to Oscar, the principles are expected to be broad-brush in nature and emphasize border and interior security measures, but they are likely to include a first-ever official House GOP endorsement of legal status for many of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

Maggie McHugh, also writing in the NDFC Newsletter, said the betting is that the goals will cover increased border security, in-country security enforcement, fast-track for agricultural laborers, increased visas for high-tech workers, and opportunities for “dreamers” – children brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents.

McHugh said Rebecca Tallent, formerly chief of staff to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and recently a member of the Bipartisan Policy Council, is assisting House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other members of Republican caucus in writing guiding principles on immigration reform. Another key individual, McHugh said, is Esther Olavarria, formerly a top immigration advisor to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, and now a member of the Domestic Policy Council.

With their involvement, the current immigration reform landscape is potentially better. However, as good as their combined abilities are, the opposition by Tea Party Republicans and immigration opponents will call for every bit of their skill and stamina, McHugh said.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) continues to hold out hope immigration reform will be addressed in the second session of the 113th Congress. NMPF has been deeply engaged in efforts to revise U.S. immigration system through its work with the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), a coalition of more than 70 agriculture organizations, and was involved in creation of the Senate bill.

Unlike the Senate’s bill, the House will likely pursue a piecemeal approach centered on a series of bills passed last year by the House Judiciary Committee. One of those measures, the Agriculture Guestworker Act (H. R. 1773), was created specifically to deal with the challenges of using immigrant labor in the agricultural sector. While this legislation includes important reforms that would benefit agriculture – and specifically dairy farms – improvements will be needed to ensure that this measure fully addresses the No. 1 concern for the dairy industry: maintaining farmers’ current workforce, NMPF said.