Giuliani's Immigration Problem

Much as he hates to admit it, Rudy loved (most of) those huddled masses

With second-tier finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire ending his year-long frontrunner status, America's Mayor is looking more and more like America's Loser. But polls in Florida and the breakthrough states of Super Tuesday, as well as the split decision in the first two Republican primaries, give Rudy Giuliani a still-plausible chance on the road to this summer's convention. Hope, as Barack Obama would put it, is his only option.

Giuliani was in Florida the night of his Iowa and New Hampshire losses, and that is where he will make his stand on January 29, after laying off in Michigan, Nevada, and even South Carolina. He calls it a "big-state" strategy, though it looks more and more like merely a recognition of his own dismal immediate prospects. If he is staking his candidacy on Florida, however, he will have to come to grips with an issue foremost on Republican voters' minds there: immigration. But his campaign is on a collision course between that wedge issue —exploited the way gay marriage was in 2004—and Giuliani's own immigration résumé.

Giuliani is not just a former New York mayor who has to answer to the GOP for policies that were benevolent to immigrants. Nearly three decades ago, when he was the third most powerful person in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, he was also its point man on immigration. In the post of associate attorney general, as well as when he was U.S. Attorney in Manhattan in the late '80s and mayor in the '90s, he established a pro-immigrant record that goes far beyond his already-documented support of health care and other benefits for illegals. And if that doesn't play well with Florida primary voters, neither will the time he took a tough stance on immigrants and wound up being rebuked by federal judges—in part for his treatment of Cuban refugees.

photo: Richard Levine


Setting a Hire Standard
Who exactly built Rudy's house in the Hamptons?

With special reporting by Samuel Rubenfeld
Research assistance by Kimberly Chin, Mary Grace Mullen, Shaunna Murphy, Shea O'Rourke, Marguerite A. Suozzi, Adam Weinstein, and John Wilwol

The exploitation of immigration as a campaign issue has already shaped the presidential fortunes of three present or onetime frontrunners: John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Giuliani. McCain's early national lead disappeared with his prominent link to a Bush-backed immigration bill considered by every other GOP presidential hopeful, including Giuliani, to be too welcoming. Clinton's slide began when she tried to take both positions on the question of drivers' licenses for illegals in a primary debate. Giuliani all but abandoned Iowa, meanwhile, where polls indicated that immigration was the highest concern for Republican voters, and where his so-called "sanctuary city" record as mayor was near the top of the list of shifting policy positions that hurt him. Giuliani's desperate declaration in December that, as mayor, he wanted to deport all 400,000 of the city's undocumented immigrants but found himself "stuck" with them—a slight variation on his 1994 observation that undocumented immigrants were the kind of people "we want in this city"—became one of the galling contrasts that crippled him in Iowa and diminished his national numbers.

Giuliani has recently taken to trying to inoculate himself against his pro-immigrant past by invoking Reagan (10 times, for example, in the ABC debate right before the New Hampshire vote), the theory being that the grand old hero of the Grand Old Party—also routinely cited for a variety of other reasons by Giuliani's opponents—might give him some cover. But Rudy himself has contended in recent debates that Reagan was no xenophobe: The president "did straight-out amnesty" and "would be in one" of Mitt Romney's negative commercials today, Giuliani pointed out.

What Giuliani didn't say was that, as the Justice Department official who oversaw the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and as a member of a 1981 White House working group on immigration, he helped craft the Gipper's first-ever amnesty bill, which was passed in 1986 and ultimately legalized three million undocumented immigrants, mostly Mexicans. It's that law—echoed in many ways by the 2006 bill that Giuliani opposed—that is widely seen as having spurred millions more to come to America in anticipation of future amnesties. Giuliani testified at a 1982 federal trial in Florida over INS detention policies that he was "the singular individual" responsible for immigration issues at the Department of Justice, and that he'd been deeply involved in drafting Reagan's immigration policy. Giuliani said that it "felt like" he was spending 100 percent of his time on immigration issues. A 1983 New York Times story reported that Giuliani "was active in promoting the administration's immigration bill last year, which sought to grant amnesty to illegal aliens."

Giuliani now says: “The first thing is, there should be no amnesty.” His Florida chair is the state’s attorney general, Bill McCollum, who made his name in state politics by leading the fight against the amnesty provisions in the Reagan bill and sponsoring an amendment to block it when he was in the House that lost by a scant seven votes. Shortly after the defeat of the McCollum amendment, Reagan said: “I supported this bill. I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and have lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally.” While the Reagan administration, including Giuliani, had argued for years before the bill’s final passage that legalization would lead to a reduction in illegal immigration, a record-breaking 850,000 new undocumented immigrants were said by the INS to have arrived in 1989, attracted by the promise of a repeat of the just-completed Reagan amnesties.

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