Efforts being spearheaded by Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who straddles the line between the new and old guard of the GOP and has made strides in convincing conservatives of the need for comprehensive immigration reform, may be gaining momentum now. But groups on the right say Republicans and vulnerable Democrats are making a political miscalculation.
The immigration issue is one that elicits visceral responses from constituents, something groups like NumbersUSA hope to capitalize on. This week Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, one of the gang of eight, was reminded what he is up against at a town hall meeting in Arizona when he had to fight back against heckling constituents.
"When push comes to shove and the gang of eight comes forth with a bill it is going to be something that Republicans are not going to be able to accept," Krikorian says. "So far this is just foreplay. It is not real yet. When it becomes real you are going to see some mighty push back."
Part of that push back, Krikorian says, comes from voters who believe that this will not be the last time Congress asks to grant amnesty to the country's illegal immigrants. In 1986, a comprehensive immigration bill passed Congress that included a path to citizenship and tighter border control measures. However, the country now has 11 million illegal immigrants compared to 5 million in the late 1980s.
"There is a trust gap. The political elites have lost the trust of the public on this issue. No one believes the promises of enforcement being made now will be honored," says Krikorian
Brad Bailey, founder of the Texas Immigration Solutions, a group that seeks to change Republican attitudes about immigration reform, says anti-immigration groups are simply in denial about the political reality of immigration reform.
"They have hijacked the issue and nothing gets done. I firmly believe they have done some major damage to our Republican Party brand," Bailey says. "We have the ability to really connect with the Hispanic community, but when you are listening to some of these radical groups, the anti-immigration rhetoric is a political loser."