“American Principles is going after Tea Party conservatives who are influencers"

Groups that want to block a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal residents and limit the expansion of guest-worker programs also recognize they must win over key Tea Party voices.

“It’s very difficult to change the minds of 180 people or 100 people so you look to see who the peer leaders are in each class and also state delegations,” said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which supports reduced immigration. “We certainly have anticipated the importance of keeping those kind of people on board.

“Our activists are hitting Ellmers very hard after her comments this week. If any of these type people show signs of giving in to the establishment, we do regard it as very important,” he added.

In a recent op-ed published in the Fayetteville Observer, Ellmers expressed support for letting illegal immigrants obtain legal status and apply for “naturalization.”

“We must also acknowledge that these people have lived in our communities for years and are a vital part of many farms and businesses right here in the 2nd District,” she wrote.