By LIBBY QUAID
The Associated Press
Friday, September 7, 2007; 11:01 PM
WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani said illegal immigration is not a crime, prompting rival Mitt Romney to accuse him of not taking the problem seriously. The two have clashed for weeks over illegal immigration, an issue that inflames GOP conservatives who influence primary elections. The irony is that both candidates have in the past taken more liberal stands on the issue.
"It's not a crime," Giuliani said Friday. "I know that's very hard for people to understand, but it's not a federal crime."
Giuliani's comments came in an interview with CNN Headline News and radio talk-show host Glenn Beck.
"I was U.S. attorney in the Southern district of New York," he said. "So believe me, I know this. In fact, when you throw an immigrant out of the country, it's not a criminal proceeding. It's a civil proceeding."
Illegal immigration shouldn't be a crime, either, Giuliani said: "No, it shouldn't be because the government wouldn't be able to prosecute it. We couldn't prosecute 12 million people. We have only 2 million people in jail right now for all the crimes that are committed in the country, 2.5 million."
He added: "My solution is close the border to illegal immigration."
The former New York mayor has been defending his city's so-called sanctuary policy, which stopped city workers from reporting suspected illegal immigrants. The policy is intended to make illegal immigrants feel that they can report crimes, send their children to school or seek medical treatment without fear of being reported. It did require police to turn in illegal immigrants suspected of committing crimes.
A Romney spokesman said the comments show Giuliani doesn't take the problem seriously.
"His advocacy for sanctuary city policies and his troubling lack of interest in making enforcement of our nation's immigration laws a priority puts him at odds with those who want to secure our borders and end illegal immigration," said Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades.
Giuliani's campaign accused Romney of showing a lack of interest in enforcement as well, pointing out that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney did not try to punish sanctuary cities in his own state.
Giuliani spokeswoman Katie Levinson said: "Mitt Romney's position of the hour probably shouldn't be taken seriously considering he rewarded four Massachusetts sanctuary cities with hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid and allowed the illegal population to skyrocket.
"We'll wait a minute and see if he changes his mind again," she said, alluding to criticism that Romney has changed his position on several issues.
Also Friday, Giuliani said he would mark the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Tuesday at ground zero, where the World Trade Center towers stood before the attacks. Some victims' families have criticized those plans, saying presidential politics shouldn't be part of the ceremony.
"I was there when it happened, and I've been there every year since then. If I didn't, it would be extremely unusual. As a personal matter, I wouldn't be able to live with myself," Giuliani said after touring the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in Largo, Fla.
"That's personal, that's not political," he said. "That's a personal thing. I will do that for as long as they have a ceremony out there."
Associated Press Writer Brendan Farrington in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.