(CNN) – Bucking the general hesitation on the right to move forward with immigration reform in a midterm year, Sal Russo, a leading tea party activist, is making the case for conservatives to take the lead on the issue.
A co-founder for the Tea Party Express, Russo called on Congress to fix a "flawed and broken" system to keep pace with a growing economy.
"Conservatives should be at the forefront of reform so the law reflects the just interests of the United States, not misty-eyed ideals of some of the liberal do-gooder reformers. What is good for America should be the sole criteria for immigration reform," he said in an opinion piece published Wednesday by Roll Call.
Russo's appeal to update the United States' immigration system isn't the first coming from a conservative amid Republican opposition on Capitol Hill.
When the Senate approved the immigration reform bill last June that was pushed by a bipartisan "Gang of Eight," anti-tax activist Grover Norquist stood alongside the four Democrats and four Republicans in arguing for Congress to adopt the legislation.
The measure, which stalled in the GOP-led House, includes an eventual pathway to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, a provision met with strong opposition from many conservatives.
The Tea Party Express is one of the largest and most politically active national tea party organizations. It got its start in 2009 as a bus tour that crisscrossed the country as it held rallies and supported conservative candidates. In the 2012 election cycle, the group partnered with CNN to host the first tea party Republican presidential debate.
In a release Monday, Russo announced his group would join forces with Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform for a monthly conference call to highlight conservative support for changes to the U.S. immigration system.
Tea partiers' support for immigration reform lags
Russo, and a handful of other immigration outliers in the tea party, may have an uphill battle to fight for support on the issue.
A majority nationwide support immigration reform, but polls indicate tea party-leaning voters are less supportive for reforms than Americans as a whole.
According to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted in February, over half of the public said the top priority for the federal government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration should be developing a plan that would allow undocumented workers with jobs to eventually become legal U.S. residents rather than beefing up border security.
That's compared to the 29% of self-described tea party supporters who said legalizing the status of the undocumented trumped border security.
Pathway to citizenship is the sticking point
A path to legal status for undocumented workers has been the deal breaker for House Republicans. In January, GOP leaders in the lower chamber unveiled an outline of immigration standards, insisting there "will be no special path to citizenship" for the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats wouldn't accept a proposal without a pathway to citizenship.
In the opinion piece, Russo said the U.S. should allow the millions of undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status, but not without penalty, to make sure these people are paying taxes and obeying the law.
"We have to get them right by the law in exchange for legal status, but not unbridled amnesty," he said, underscoring that these people should not cut in front of those waiting in line for green cards.
America, Russo said, will fall behind other countries with more accessibility to green cards. He also makes the case that the U.S. economy would benefit from reforms like a revamp of its worker visa programs for seasonal workers to meet farm labor demands.
CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.