The ag guestworker bill, proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who represents a district heavy into poultry production, recently passed through the committee 20-16 along partisan lines, Brandenberger said. Goodlatte serves as the committee's chairman.
The House bill as written is part of a pathway to citizenship, he said. Workers would be allowed to work for 36 months on an initial visa, but would have to "touch back" to their home country for a period of about six weeks before they would be allowed to return to the job.
"That three years is very important, because it creates a greater reliability in the labor pool," said Brandenberger.
While the House is working on a series of individual bills related to immigration reform, the Senate is pinning its hopes on the "Gang of 8" bill that could pass within days. While Brandenberger said the Senate bill is "a step in the right direction," he acknowledged it still falls short of some of the poultry industry's needs.
The public may have the perception that Washington is totally gridlocked, but Brandenberger said that view is not entirely accurate. In fact, he said the odds of the two houses and the two parties reaching some form of compromise and passing legislation are better in 2013 than they were in years past, or would be in 2014.
"There's a better chance than there has been in a long time to get something done," he said. "But in the immigration reform world, a great chance would be a 25 to 30 percent chance, as opposed to a zero- to one-percent chance, where it normally is. We're not advising any of our members to start planning on any immigration paradigm right away, but if this happens, I think it will happen this year. I think if you get into next year, it is going to be harder for a lot of election-year reasons, so I think there is a lot of urgency on everyone's part."