On the far fringes of the pro-immigration movement, some Hispanic activists openly yearn for the day when immigrants rise up and retake the American Southwest, more than 150 years after the U.S. annexed it.

"If somebody steals your car, how much of it do you want back? Just the tires? The seats?" asks Olin Tezcatlipoca of the Los Angeles-based Mexican Movement.

Mainstream immigration advocacy groups — as well as academics and experts on nearly all sides of the illegal immigration issue — dismiss these "reconquista" notions as rhetorical, not to be taken seriously.

But such talk appears to be galvanizing foes of immigration. Anti-immigrant activists and some conservatives have seized on such rhetoric to claim that a conspiracy is afoot among illegal immigrants to reconquer the Southwest.