At viewing parties organized across the country, advocates will give responses to journalists and take swings at those now-ubiquitous
Immigration has been a major campaign theme since Trump made disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants during his campaign announcement speech in June. Trump's calls for stricter immigration enforcement have resonated with a large swath of the GOP base, and polls show him leading the field.
That is cause for concern for immigrant advocates, who fear that Trump's traction on the immigration issue will cause a rightward drift among the more than a dozen candidates vying for the GOP nomination.
Lizet Ocampo, associate director for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said Trump's comments have fueled a wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
"It's even gotten more extreme," said Ocampo, whose group recently released a compilation of statistics that show that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans and that border crossings are at a 40-year low. "It's important for us to combat the untrue and harmful stereotypes and language that Donald Trump and others have used about our community," she said.
Other groups that support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally have done similar work.
Some advocates say they are looking to see whether the rest of the GOP candidates align themselves with Trump's immigration views or highlight their differences.
"Unless the current GOP distances itself from Trump or other right-wing, anti-immigrant extremists, their race to the White House is already doomed," said Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. Her group is hosting a viewing party Thursday night at its Los Angeles headquarters and will have immigrant voters on hand to give real-time responses to the debate to local journalists.
Those who favor stricter enforcement of immigration laws will also be watching the debate closely. NumbersUSA., a group that has called for stricter border control, will be airing a commercial during the debate that seeks to turn the focus of the immigration debate away from particular ethnic groups.
"The immigration debate should not be about the color of people's skin or their country of origin or where their grandparents were born," the ad says. "The debate should be about the numbers."