'Good People' Given Chance
In Giuliani Immigration Plan
Does either Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney have a practical and immediate solution for dealing with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States?
That question has been lost in the escalating debate between the two Republican presidential candidates this week over whether Giuliani was soft on illegal immigration as mayor of New York. Romney's attack on Giuliani reflects his campaign's emerging strategy after the former Massachusetts governor's victory in the Iowa straw poll last Saturday.
Romney's advisers have two goals. The first is to narrow the race as much as possible to a contest between Romney and Giuliani. The second is to cast Romney as the conservative and Giuliani as out of the GOP mainstream. They hope that will open up a path to the nomination by allowing Romney to seize the conservative mantle before voters have a chance to make a real judgment about the conservative bona fides of Fred Thompson, who won't enter the race officially before September.
Romney can't easily question Giuliani's support for abortion or gay rights because that brings back questions about his own conversions on those issues. Immigration, still a hot button among Republican primary and caucus voters, is his chosen issue.
All week, Romney has hammered his rival for policies Giuliani supported as mayor. Those policies that allowed children of illegal immigrants to go to school, receive medical care and report crimes without facing deportation. Giuliani is firing back with vows that he knows how to get control of the borders.
In reality, both candidates have views on immigration that are more complicated than the tone of the debate this week suggests.
Giuliani outlined his views about immigration during a recent campaign appearance in Boone, Iowa. The issue arose when Boone resident Maxine Redeker asked him what he would do about the illegal immigrants whose children, having been born in the United States, are citizens. She asked, will the parents of those children be allowed to remain in the United States?
Giuliani's answer, in its most simplistic form, was yes, if they're good people. If they're not, they will be sent home.
"Look at the ones who are productive, decent people," he said. "Give them a card, get them to pay taxes. Those people who have children who are here -- fine, no problem. The ones who are committing crimes, we have to throw out of the country. No matter whether they have children or not."
"I don't know how you're going to do that," Redeker told Giuliani.
"You can do that," he said. "You let them come forward. You let them come forward, you identify them, you figure out who they are. The ones who don't come forward, you find them and throw them out. But in order to do that you have to first have control over your borders."
Giuliani emphasizes border control whenever he is talking to audiences on the campaign trail, and argues that he could effectively close down the borders to illegal immigration in 18 months to three years.
I asked him after his exchange with Redeker about his broader views, particularly his willingness to allow many illegal immigrants to remain in the country and become citizens. That, I suggested, sounded very similar to the kind of comprehensive immigration package President Bush and John McCain pushed with no success earlier this year.
"I don't think comprehensive reform is politically possible right now," Giuliani replied. "I've come to the conclusion in studying this now for six months or eight months... It seems to me you first control the borders. Give everyone a little relief from the debate for awhile. Then we revisit in it a situation of more order, more confidence the border can be controlled. Then we have to say what's the best answer to deal with the people who are here."
Giuliani described himself as "very pro legal immigrant, very anti illegal immigrant, but I think I'm also practical about illegal immigration..."
His goal, he said, is a "practical, sensible solution" to the millions here illegally that is "humane and has us like other countries -- that doesn't have us doing anything excessive."
Assuming he could make good on his vow to get control of the borders within three years off becoming president, would he then follow up on his solution for dealing with those here illegally? "I would try to do it," he said.
The Giuliani plan could allow many millions of the illegal immigrants now in the country to stay and perhaps even become citizens. "Good people would be given a chance," he said. "They'd have to earn it, they'd have to pay penalties and back taxes, they'd have to be able to read, write and speak English before they could become citizens. Bad people, or not such good people, would be thrown out depending on how you decided that."
Romney, who has played the role of aggressor in the debate with Giuliani, takes a passive approach to the question of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. He believes they will eventually leave the country of their own volition. "I wouldn't round them up as one big group and try and bus them all home at once," he said.
Romney envisions that, as the federal government cracks down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, the word will spread and illegal immigrants will conclude they won't be able to get work and will begin to return to their native countries.
"Realistically they will attrite, they will return to their homes and they will be replaced over time with legal workers," Romney explained to reporters during a June campaign appearance in New Hampshire.
"The idea is a gradual and humane replacement of illegal workers with either U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. We don't want to put ourselves in a setting where we hurt our own economy."
But Romney's plan, even under an optimistic set of conditions, likely would take many years to work. In his approach, there would be no immediate effort to round up or try to deport illegal immigrants.
"This is not real hard," he said. "Simply enforcing the laws as they exist...will begin the process... I think we're going to see a significant increase in legal immigrants as we have illegal immigrants leave and that's a great thing."
The Romney-Giuliani debate this week obscures their views -- and their differences -- on what remains the most politically treacherous issue in the illegal immigration debate: what to do about those already here. Giuliani sounds closer to the president and McCain than Romney, but Romney begs the question of whether his "gradual and humane" approach is either practical or effective.
The president and others in the Republican Party have worried that a policy that aims simply at securing the border and deporting illegal immigrants would have long-term consequences for the GOP in its aspiration to attract more support from Hispanics. I asked Giuliani whether that concerned him.
"I can't tell you," he replied. "I don't know."
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