Giuliani's Immigration Problem

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

The cumulative Giuliani record on immigration is virtually unmarketable in this year's anti-immigrant GOP climate. He has come to embody the contradiction at the core of his party, where the rhetoric of today is at odds with the actual performance of all three of the most recent Republican presidents, from Reagan to the two Bushes. Clinton's own border-protection and employer-sanction record is arguably better than Reagan's—or even Bush's. When Giuliani was overseeing the INS in 1982, Congress added $100 million beyond the agency's request—a lot of money in those days—to the INS budget, because members of Congress were more interested in restricting illegals than the administration was. Asked about illegal immigration in Texas during the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan said that "the way to solve the problem of undocumented aliens" was "to give them documents." And his immigration understudy, Rudy Giuliani, even told the Bar Association of the City of New York in 1981: "There is no choice but to legalize these people. To hunt them down, apprehend them, and expel them from the country is impractical, a waste of limited resources, and ultimately destructive to the continuing tradition of America."

photo: Richard Levine

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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

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Rudy likes to cite his long and deep involvement with the issue, saying he's been working at it for 25 years—which is actually a slight understatement. "There's nobody that cares about immigration and understands the values of it more than I do," he told The Washington Post. But in what will clearly be the decisive days of his presidential campaign—especially in states like Florida and South Carolina, where the issue polls at the top of voter concerns—he is haunted by his history. He is a loss or two from oblivion, and his better self, from an earlier era, is beating the man he's become.

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