"There will be quite a stark contrast between Ronald Reagan and the candidates on the stage," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a nonprofit group that supports a wide range of immigration reforms, including the DREAM Act and allowing undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship.
Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted legal status to as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants and is largely seen by opponents to illegal immigration as a mistake.
In fact, Maria Cardona, an expert on Latino politics who participated in a conference call with Sharry on Wednesday afternoon, said none of the candidates that will appear on the stage will display a moderate view on immigration.
"There is no humane and centrist position within the current crop of GOP candidates," she said.
But former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman might buck that description.
Huntsman supports the DREAM Act, which would allow children of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States to earn status by attending college or serving in the military. As governor, he supported a veto to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students, though the bill never made it to his desk.
Sharry acknowledged Huntsman had been progressive on some immigration issues, but also pointed out his public comments to secure the border first a popular rallying cry for the entire slate of GOP candidates.
"Huntsman was a comprehensive immigration reformer," Sharry said. "But as he announced his presidential campaign, he retreated to the position of the other major candidates ... which is secure the border."
Ron Mortensen, co-founder on the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said Huntsman doesn't do well with Republicans who participate in primaries and that those who vote would not like his stance on immigration.
"If you liked HB116, you'd like Jon Huntsman," Mortensen said, referring to the Utah guest-worker law that seeks to grant visas to undocumented workers in the state and has been the subject of contention within the GOP.
Cardona said Huntsman's views on immigration are more of an illustration of how far to the right the Republican Party has gone. She pointed out that in the most recent debate, when Huntsman was asked about a pathway to citizenship, he answered by talking about securing the borders. The, she added, "underscores how reasonable people in the past like Jon Huntsman" have had to adjust their answers.
The debate begins at 6 p.m. MDT.