Giuliani's Immigration Problem

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

Since Meissner had worked in the Carter Justice Department on immigration issues, "Rudy could have gotten rid of me," she told the Voice, "since my name appeared on the White House list of holdovers." Instead, "he made me the acting commissioner," a job she held for almost a year, until a Reagan ally from California was appointed. Then, says Meissner, Giuliani "backed making me executive associate commissioner," the number-three post in the agency, where she remained until 1986, returning once Clinton was elected. "Rudy was very agreeable," Meissner recalls. "He signed off on most of what I brought him. Then, when he became mayor, we viewed him as one of the really progressive elected officials in the country on immigration. He couldn't have been better; he feels it and breathes it. We were always on very good terms. He was the perfect voice for the complexity of the issue." She says that she has since revised her opinion of Giuliani after realizing that Rudy had only been saying "what worked for him politically at the time" and "is speaking now to a different set of constituents." It is, she concluded, "as if a different person is talking."

In fact, as mayor, Giuliani endorsed at least three extensions of Section 245(i) of the immigration code, which allowed hundreds of thousands of illegals to remain in the country for up to three years while they awaited a green card or tried to adjust their status, often by marrying a U.S. citizen. While Giuliani's Washington lobbying office engaged in low-key advocacy for the first extension in the mid-'90s, he played a more public role in 2000, pushing a Clinton-backed bill called the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act, which permitted 640,000 illegals to remain in the U.S., and in the third extension—introduced by George Bush shortly after he took office in 2001—which would have protected another 200,000 illegals. A few days after Giuliani took Bush to Ellis Island for a naturalization ceremony on the new president's first visit to New York, the mayor announced that he was "joining" Bush "in supporting" the third 245(i) extension. The House was poised to approve it on September 11, 2001, but it was withdrawn and modified after the attack, and finally approved in March 2002.

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

Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have made sure that Republicans hear about Giuliani's fight as mayor to keep city employees from informing on illegals to the INS. The mayor had filed suit after two new federal laws in 1996 superseded a city executive order, initially issued by Ed Koch and reaffirmed by Giuliani, that barred city employees from feeding the INS information. As well known as that pro-immigrant action has become, Giuliani's simultaneous formation of an Immigration Coalition that included such reviled right-wing targets as George Soros and Bianca Jagger has passed unnoticed. Rudy announced their names at yet another Ellis Island ceremony after he was introduced by his director of immigrant affairs, Angelica Tang, who described him as "our nation's most tenacious champion of immigration and the best friend of the immigrant community." But when Giuliani announced his campaign-advisory committee on immigration, Tang—who is said to have remained close to him in recent years—was not a member. She was replaced by experts of a decidedly different bent, like Jan Ting, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for the Senate in Delaware, who ran a stridently anti-immigrant campaign in 2006.

Giuliani ultimately lost his court battles challenging the 1996 immigration and welfare laws, though he went all the way to the Supreme Court. And even as the case dragged on for years, he proposed spending $12 million in city funds to set up a half-dozen offices to try to naturalize the immigrants expected to lose their benefits as a result of the new federal requirements. All of this proved to be campaign bluster for his 1997 re-election, since the Clinton administration, according to Meissner, simply took no action to enforce the overturning of the city's executive order, and similar provisions in the welfare-reform act were subsequently changed.

In 1983, while still at the Justice Department, Giuliani also helped create the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration courts and has been denounced as "alien-friendly" by critics. Giuliani participated in the decision to install William Robie as the agency's first head and chief immigration judge. Robie was an apolitical career staffer in the DOJ whose 10-year tenure at the helm of EOIR earned him the top award of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The Robie reign was in sharp contrast to the way that John Ashcroft moved in the Bush years to politicize these same courts, dumping many of the appeals judges in particular, and turning this judicial branch into what Meissner now calls a "rubber stamp" of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the post-9/11 successor to the INS.

Meissner confirmed that Robie, like her, reported to Attorney General Smith "through Rudy" and that Giuliani was their joint "first-line supervisor," noting that Robie and Giuliani had worked together in the same unit at the Justice Department in the Ford administration. Meissner said that Robie and Giuliani embodied a merit-based civil-service approach to immigration-court appointments. She said the purpose of the 1983 reorganization was to make the courts independent of the INS, so that they were "outside the agency whose decisions they were reviewing"—a change that would inevitably lead to more reversals of the INS's denials of residency, refugee, or other status to prospective immigrants. A 1984 article in the UCLA Law Review noted that EOIR changes reduced the anti-immigrant "prosecutorial bias of new judges," and Robie was cited as stating that none of the first four judges appointed had previously worked at the INS, the one-time career path for these appointments.

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