Romney, Giuliani Escalate Their Immigration Fight

By Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 17, 2007

The two leading Republican presidential candidates have turned the GOP primary campaign into a nasty, week-long debate about illegal immigration, accusing each other of supporting efforts to give undocumented residents sanctuary from federal immigration laws.

At campaign stops, in radio ads and with increasingly hostile statements by supporters, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani are talking about little else as they position themselves on an issue critical to conservatives in their party.

"They are trying to rattle their sabers louder than the other and thump on their chests," said Angela Kelley, the deputy director of the pro-immigrant National Immigration Forum. "Both of these guys are trying to remake themselves."

Romney started the fight, and his criticism reflects his campaign's emerging strategy after the former governor's victory in the Iowa straw poll last Saturday. Romney's advisers would like to narrow the GOP race as much as possible to a two-person contest with Giuliani, and they are seeking to brand Romney as the true conservative in the race, in contrast to Giuliani.

They also hope to seize the initiative with conservatives before former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), expected to enter the race next month, can establish his own bona fides with the party's base.

At the heart of the Romney-Giuliani argument is the role of cities in the immigration crisis. Romney has said that New York, under Giuliani's leadership, became a magnet for illegal immigrants when city officials refused to strictly enforce federal deportation laws. Giuliani in return has accused Romney of looking the other way as cities and towns in Massachusetts declared themselves "sanctuaries" for lawbreakers.

Both camps continued to escalate the issue yesterday. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), writing on behalf of Giuliani, attacked Romney in an opinion piece in the Washington Times. King accused Romney of failing to act as governor against sanctuary cities in his state.

"Mr. Romney did not cut their funding. He recommended millions of dollars in state funding for them, and made no attempt to force these cities to change their policies," King wrote. "When the immigration issue came before him, he simply ignored it."

Giuliani's former deputy mayor, Randy Mastro, went further in an interview. "We have a word here in New York for what Mitt Romney is doing," Mastro said. "It's called chutzpah."

Romney aides responded with an online column by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), who called the immigration policies in New York "troubling" and blamed them for the growth of the nation's population of illegal immigrants.

"Sanctuary policies create virtual amnesty zones for illegal immigrants. While amnesty was just defeated in the Congress, places like New York City offer a promise of amnesty to those who ignore our immigration laws," Smith wrote. "Furthermore, sanctuary city policies encourage illegal immigration and weaken our nation's ability to secure our borders."

Romney has focused on a New York executive order that Giuliani inherited -- and later supported -- that protects illegal immigrants from deportation. Romney aides point out that Giuliani once sued the federal government to keep the executive order in place.

Giuliani responds that his actions in New York -- which allowed children of illegal immigrants to go to school, and let such immigrants receive medical care and report crimes without facing deportation -- reduced crime and improved public health.

In a radio ad running in South Carolina, Giuliani says he was attempting to focus efforts on the true problem: criminals. "As the mayor of New York, I wanted to see if I could get the immigration service to help me. Let's see if you could get rid of the drug dealers who are coming out of jail," he says.

Romney opened his attacks Monday during a campaign stop at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro, Calif., criticizing "cities that call themselves a zone for protection," using the phrase that Giuliani once used to describe New York. He said that as president, he would cut off federal funds to cities that offer sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

As governor, Romney vetoed a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Massachusetts colleges and reached an agreement with federal officials to allow state troopers to enforce federal immigration laws.

But Romney's tough rhetoric about sanctuary cities is new, said Shuya Ohno, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Ohno said Romney was "kind of a non-factor" in most debates about illegal immigration in the state.

"It's only after he started spending a lot of time in Iowa getting ready for the presidential run did he really step into the public on the issue," Ohno said. "It's certainly much stronger than anything we heard when he was running for office here, and certainly much more polarizing."

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