Giuliani on Immigration

Halting illegal immigration; Encouraging legal immigration; A long (sometimes conflicting) record on the subject.

The Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley served as the backdrop for former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani this Monday as he spoke about his plans to deal with illegal immigration. Giuliani’s goals are to secure the border, document all non-citizens coming into and out of America, and focus on deporting criminal immigrants here illegally. But while the Republican candidate promotes himself as tough on illegal immigration, he has made a significant effort to convey the high value he places on immigrants. And as such, his plans to encourage legal immigration include looser visa restrictions, a guest worker program, and the naturalization of illegal immigrants who adhere to a particular set of mandates.

When Giuliani was mayor, he once said “Illegal immigration is a very real problem — but it is one that lies outside of the responsibility of cities and states of this country. Controlling our borders is a core function of the federal government and it is a problem that requires serious attention.” And now he is seeking that responsibility.

His first step to halt illegal entry into the country is to construct a physical border fence along Mexico, coupled with virtual monitoring of the area. He would then set up a BorderStat program to identify successful strategies and trouble spots. The idea is modeled after the CompStat program, which his administration used to reduce crime in New York during his tenure there. Critics note, however, that in ’96, Giuliani claimed that “We’re never ever going to be able to totally control immigration to a country that is as large as ours.” His campaign defends the comment by pointing out that technology has improved since then.

The next plank in the candidate’s platform is to keep track all foreigners in America. He would enter every non-citizen here into a database, which would follow them as they enter and leave the country. To ensure that they are who they say they are, non-citizens would be issued biometric identification, which Giuliani dubs the SAFE card. Biometrics IDs use physical characteristics such as fingerprints for identification, although some experts think they are not as “tamper proof” as Giuliani claims.

And finally, he would commit to deporting any immigrant that commits a crime while staying here.

But none of this is meant to discourage legal immigration. “We want people to come into the United States. We want people to help us grow. We want people to help us with our economy. We want people to help us with our society and our future. But we want them to do it legally,” Giuliani said in Iowa this August.

Recently, he has called for a loosening of Visa restrictions to attract more foreign skilled-workers and as a means of increasing positive interaction with Middle Eastern countries.

Giuliani also voiced opposition in ’05 to a bill in Congress that would have criminalized illegal immigration, allowing the imprisonment of those caught residing in the country illegally. The legislation was introduced by his Republican competitor, Rep. Duncan Hunter, and cosponsored by another GOP contender, Rep. Tom Tancredo.

Furthermore, the former mayor supports a guest worker program – similar to President George W. Bush’s proposal – arguing that it will help to deter terrorist attacks. “By having this vast underground, we are much more insecure,” he said. Bush’s plan would have allowed immigrants here illegally to stay and work, and while Giuliani has skated around the issue of whether or not they must leave the country first, he does support the naturalization of undocumented immigrants, with certain caveats.

He says that those here legally should be considered for citizenship first, and those who are here illegally must pay penalties, such as back taxes. Giuliani also says that for immigrants to be eligible for citizenship, they must learn English. He has reiterated this position in front of a controversial Philadelphia cheesesteak spot that requires customers to order in English, even though he once had a different view on the subject.

In fact, his record as mayor is one of an advocate for the undocumented, often in contention with federal policy. In ’94 he said, “If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you’re one of the people who we want in this city;” in ’97 he allowed aliens in New York City with expired Visas to get married; and ’98 he pushed for the federal government to restore social services for legal immigrants. All of which brings us to “the Sanctuary City,” although you’ll have to wait for my next post because that’s an issue all its own.

Tags: 2008 presidential election