Giuliani's Immigration Problem

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

Giuliani moved on in mid-1983 to become the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. In 1987, the Simpson-sponsored law that Giuliani helped craft went into effect, providing criminal sanctions against employers who harbored or transported illegals, as well as for those who engaged in a repeated "pattern or practice" of hiring them. While cases were brought in Chicago, San Antonio, Houston, and Los Angeles—four of the top INS sites—none were brought while Giuliani was still in charge of the Manhattan office. A Rand/Urban Institute study in 1990 said that INS officials specifically reported that federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan" had rejected criminal cases presented to them." The study attributed this "resistance" by federal prosecutors to the fact that "their calendars are filled with more pressing criminal matters, such as organized crime cases."


Reagan's amnesty program, meanwhile, had contained a provision called SAW (Special Agricultural Workers), which conferred resident status on anyone who had worked in agriculture for 90 days during the previous year. While the estimates were that only 250,00 workers would apply for SAW amnesty, more than 1.3 million did, and almost all were routinely approved by the INS. The New York Times reported as early as 1989 that the SAW program was widely described as "one of the most extensive immigration frauds ever perpetrated against the United States government." Vernon Briggs, a Cornell immigration scholar, says that SAW was "massively abused."

"Many an urban resident claimed SAW status," writes analyst David North, who did studies for the Urban Institute and the Ford Foundation on the program and specifically uncovered examples of phony "agricultural workers" in Manhattan. He reported that 888,637 legalization applications under SAW and other amnesty sections of the 1986 law were initially denied by INS investigators, though only 60,020 final denials were approved.

photo: Richard Levine

Details

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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 Rand study found that INS offices in the seven major immigrant cities adopted enforcement priorities and that one, Houston, made "SAW fraud" its top concern. New York did not. North, who has studied SAW more than any other analyst, said he had "no knowledge of any actions taken by Giuliani's office," noting that California prosecutors were making cases. "That I know of no Giuliani action does not prove that his office did nothing about it," North added, though a check of news clips also failed to turn up any cases. The most notorious SAW prosecution at the time occurred in Newark, where a thousand illegals falsely claimed to have worked on a puny 30-acre farm that was charged with selling affidavits affirming their employment for INS submission.

In Giuliani's current attempt to recast himself as tough on immigration issues, he never mentions any prosecutions of immigration fraud or employer violations, which suggests that there were none. Instead, he has referred to his mass detention and interdiction policies against Haitians in the early 1980s, apparently believing that this is the single part of his immigration record that will work well with Republican voters. But it's a record that he ran from when Newsday first exposed it in the 1989 mayoral campaign, concerned that he might be hurt in liberal New York by charges that his harsh policies brutalized tens of thousands and were blasted by several federal courts. Now Rudy sees the Haitian camps—which a Times editorial said at the time "started to smell like the de tention of Japanese-Americans in WorldWar II"—as an entree for him into the anti-immigrant heartland. Similar policies against asylum seekers from the right-wing regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala were also reversed by federal judges, though Giuliani the candidate doesn't talk about them as often.

He also tries to pose as a mayor who routinely referred thousands of illegals arrested on other charges to the INS, complaining that the agency rarely deported any of them. If the INS would have deported all of the illegals in New York City, instead of the 700 to 1,500 it deported each year, Giuliani says, "I would have turned all the people over." While that statement is wholly inconsistent with his description in 1994 of undocumented aliens as "some of the hardest-working and most productive people in this city," he did say at a 1995 press conference that he'd "like to see the INS dealing with people who commit crimes," and his lawyers told reporters in 1999 that the city supplied information on 4,000 illegals a year who pass through city jails, but that only a few hundred of them were deported. But this was more of an occasional public gripe than a recipe for action. The city was sending information on many people who had yet to be convicted of any crime, creating a database so mixed that an already-overwhelmed INS would have had to sort it.

In addition, Doris Meissner says that Giuliani "never complained" to her or her office about the deportation rate, though she has no doubt that "you could think" the INS wasn't doing enough. "I think I would've remembered if he did [say that]," she added. She does recall joining her old friend Rudy at a massive Ellis Island naturalization event that he arranged during his mayoralty and hearing from him that the agency was "not being sufficiently compassionate" about a group of Mexican illegals. That's quite a contrast with what she now terms his "simplifying, demonizing, and vilifying" of the undocumented.

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