“His chief of staff has said from day one that this is a second term issue, something to do in an odd-numbered year. Will he have a Congress that plainly wants to give him anything that looks like a victory on the issue? He may consider some type of administrative action.”

On the other hand, Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, favors E-Verify legislation requiring employers to document legal workers, Regelbrugge says.

“He supports more visas for smart people, for high-tech workers. The rest of it is unclear. In the campaign, he ran to the right on immigration because that was the only thing he could run to the right on.”

If Romney gets elected, his administration could be so involved with other issues, like health care, that it would be reluctant to do anything with immigration policy, Regelbrugge says.

He thinks many members of Congress now understand agriculture’s stance on immigration, thanks to lobbying efforts by his group and others in the industry.

“There has been quite a seachange in Washington. We can go into any Republican office and they see there’s a problem with agriculture (and immigration reform). We’ve made our case. I really do believe we gained ground,” he says.

Incremental reform, with high-tech workers, young undocumented immigrants and agriculture workers being lumped together, is more likely than comprehensive changes in policy, Regelbrugge says.

“Comprehensive immigration reform as an objective has become so over-loaded, with such political stakes, that no one will risk giving the other side a victory.

“One question is that, if Congress passed reform, would government as an institution have the capacity to implement it? That’s why I think it could go smaller, to incremental policy, with ag and a few other things in it,” he says.

Regelbrugge criticized the increased use of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) I-9 audits under the Obama administration.

They solve littleand punish both employers and workers, he says, allowing some newly unemployed workers to be lured or forced into illegal activities by Mexican drug cartels.

ICE stepped up I-9 audits under the current administration rather than use worksite raids and deportation as it did under the George W. Bush administration.

Employers must keep on file an I-9 form for each worker, making them responsible for documentation. Regelbrugge says ICE has recently been auditing dairies, packinghouses and fruit farms in other areas. He knows of none, so far, in Florida.

He encouraged Florida farmers to align with evangelical churches on immigration. With many Hispanic members now in evangelical congregations, those churches have come out with a position much like that favored by growers, Regelbrugge says.

“They now have something called the Evangelical Immigration Table, which includes Hispanic churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Focus on the Family.

“These are our emerging allies. You’re going to see more of us asking you to do political work where you’ve got a pastor by your side. You seem less self-serving when it’s not just you doing it,” he says.

Other allies include law enforcement personnel opposed to the ICE I-9 audits, and large companies involved with food supply, Regelbrugge says.

He thinks agriculture’s message on immigration should be targeted to the “broad middle” of the U.S. population, which so far is unpersuaded on the issue.