In my previous post, I mentioned hostility to immigrants as a major weaknesses of the Republican party, the main source of their poor showing among hispanic voters. That hostility was demonstrated in the primary campaign, where candidates seemed to be competing with each other on how high a fence they wanted to build along the Mexican border (nobody seems to worry much about the Canadian border), and how strongly they would try to pressure illegal immigrants to leave. One interesting, and important, question, is why.
A possible response, suggested by a commenter, is that the hostility is not to immigrants but to illegal immigrants, and that it is not really to illegal immigrants but to illegality, that Republicans, more than Democrats, object to people breaking the law and getting away with it. That is possible—certainly almost all of the discussion was put in terms of illegals. On the other hand, one obvious way of reducing the pressure for illegal immigration would be to make legal immigration much easier, and nobody in the Republican party, nobody I noticed in either party, was arguing for that policy. And one solution to the problem of how to deal with the illegals already here would be to give them the option of leaving and coming back, this time as part of a legal process.
As it happens, I know someone who did that. One of my best students—one of the two named in the dedication to one of my books—told me that he had been an illegal immigrant. His family came in on a tourist visa, stayed long past its expiration. Eventually they went to Canada, came back as legal immigrants, in time became citizens. He ended up going to Harvard law school and, when I was last in touch, was an attorney in Los Angeles. But it would have been a lot harder if his family had been penniless and uneducated.
One test of the illegality explanation would be to ask if Republicans are particularly hostile to other forms of illegality. It's tempting but not entirely fair to ask whether they always keep to the speed limit—by my observation, almost nobody does, and on some roads anyone who did would be a traffic hazard. Off hand, I cannot think of any politically live controversies other than immigration over whether lots of people who have broken a law should be prosecuted or forgiven that we could use as a better test. Perhaps a reader can suggest one.
I can think of a variety of other reasons why people might be opposed to immigration, legal or illegal. There is the argument, I think mistaken but not obviously implausible, that there are not enough jobs to go around and we don't need more people competing for them. There is the concern that poor people will come in and go on welfare, or commit crimes, or litter the streets, or change our culture in ways those already here don't like. There is the general nationalist sentiment that favors "us" and fears "them."
But I do not see any good reason why those arguments would be more popular with Republicans than with Democrats, enough more popular to explain the Republican party pushing policies likely to drive a lot of voters away. The groups I would expect to be most concerned with competition from immigrant workers would be labor unions, and they mostly support the Democrats.
And for one good response to the "illegals deserve to be punished for what they did" argument, from a prominent Republican and ex-majority leader:
I don't like illegal immigration, but I'll tell you something: I don't run stop lights. But you put me out on the road at two o'clock in the morning on the way to the all-night drugstore to get medicine for my babies, and you give me a stop light that is stuck on red, and no traffic in sight, and I'm gonna go through that red light."