Republicans seem more confused. After needlessly bombastic talk in the 2012 presidential primaries, they have gone to the other extreme of emphasizing amnesties instead of enforcement -- largely in efforts to pander to growing numbers of Latino voters.
Here, too, paradoxes abound. Various polls suggest that immigration was not the primary reason why Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.
When the Pew Research Center recently surveyed Latinos and asked whether they preferred high taxes and big government or low taxes and small government, they preferred high taxes and big government by a 75-19 margin. And they usually see liberal Democrats as far better stewards of redistributionist government, and Republicans more as heartless advocates of a capricious free market.
Stranger still, Asian-Americans, for whom illegal immigration is not really an issue, voted for Democrats by about the same margins as did Latinos -- and perhaps for similar perceptions of minority-friendly big government.
Moreover, the largest concentrations of Latino voters are in Southwestern blue states like California, New Mexico and Nevada, where Republicans usually lose anyway, and for a variety of reasons other than immigration. Ironically, the best long-term strategy for Republicans would be to close the border and allow the forces of upward mobility, assimilation and the natural social conservatism of Latinos to work.
Everyone talks grandly of passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as if the present system had not sprung up to serve the needs of all sorts of special interests that certainly have not gone away.
We forget that too many employers still want the cheap labor of foreign nationals.
The Mexican government still promotes illegal immigration as a political safety valve and a valuable source of cash remittances.
Too many ethnic activists, whose support derives from large numbers of under-assimilated Latinos, don't want to deport anyone and do not welcome legal immigration redefined by ethnically blind, skill-based criteria.
Democratic politicos don't want closed borders, only to see the melting pot someday turn their loyal supporters into independent voters. And panicky Republicans simply have no idea what they want -- other than to cater to as many constituencies as they can.
The present system of immigration is far too often illegal and immoral. But it is also weirdly rational in the way that it serves so well so many lobbies -- and so poorly the shared public interest at large.