Are Not Criminals
Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Friday that illegal immigration is not a crime, prompting immediate criticism from his presidential rivals on an incendiary issue for Republican voters.
Giuliani made the comments during a CNN interview with host Glenn Beck on Headline News, saying that violations of the nation's immigration laws are civil violations, not criminal infractions.
"I know that's very hard for people to understand, but it's not a federal crime," Giuiani said, adding later that "I was U.S. attorney in the Southern district of New York. 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."
Giuliani's literal definition of illegal immigration gave his rivals a new opportunity to criticize the former mayor on an issue that they have used to raise questions about his conservative credentials.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been harping on Giuliani's immigration record for weeks, accusing him of, in effect, creating a sanctuary for illegal immigrants in New York City by refusing to enforce immigration rules against everyone.
"Mayor Giuliani has the wrong approach on the issue of illegal immigration," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said. "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."
In recent weeks, Giuliani has defended his actions in New York by saying he focused his efforts on illegal immigrants who committed crimes as part of his overall desire to reduce crime in the city.
Giuliani has also shot back at Romney, accusing the former governor of doing nothing while several cities in his state officially declared themselves "sanctuary cities." Romney says he empowered his state police to enforce immigration laws, but Giuliani notes he did so in the waning days of his administration.
On Friday, a Giuliani spokeswoman shot back, saying, "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."
Immigration has become a hot-button issue in the Republican nominating contest. Mentions of the need for closed borders draw big applause from voters at town hall meetings in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign was derailed this summer in part by his efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress. The bill - which was derided by immigration activists as amnesty - helped dry up fundraising for the border-state senator and incited anger among conservatives.
McCain now supports legislation to secure the border before moving to deal with the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
At a town hall meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, Fred Thompson earned his biggest applause of the morning by declaring that "a government that cannot secure its own borders will not remain a sovereign nation."
Thompson, who began his campaign on the "Tonight Show" Wednesday night, has said that any illegal immigrants who are caught should be deported. He said immigrants should not be prosecuted because that would "clog" the nation's court system with too many "misdemeanor cases."
--Michael D. Shear
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