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Posted at 8:40 AM ET, 11/30/2007

No Sanctuary from Mitt and Rudy

By Michael Dobbs

Mitt and Rudy during the CNN/YouTube debate.

RUDY GIULIANI: "The reality is that New York City was not a sanctuary city...."

ANDERSON COOPER: "Governor, was New York a sanctuary city?"

MITT ROMNEY: "Absolutely. It called itself a sanctuary city...

GIULIANI: "You did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn't you?"

ROMNEY: "No, I did not."

--CNN/YouTube debate, November 28, 2007.

Welcome back to the Mitt and Rudy show! Hold your breath as the Republican front-runners go for the jugular! Admire their fancy footwork! Watch Mr Rough take on Mr Smooth! See if you can spot their semantic tricks!

Once again, Giuliani and Romney are on the opposite sides of an argument about their respective records as mayor of New York and governor of Massachusetts. Romney fired the first shot on this one, depicting New York as a "sanctuary city" that provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. Giuliani responded by alleging that his rival ran a "sanctuary mansion," a reference to the undocumented Guatemalans who looked after his lawn for several years while he was governor. Let's try to sort it all out.

The Facts

Mitt Romney has made a lot of "sanctuary cities." But a search of the Lexis-Nexis database shows that the term was not in widespread use prior to 2001. There was, however, a "sanctuary movement," dating back to the mid-1980s, that was aimed at persuading the Reagan administration to permit half a million undocumented refugees from war-torn Central American countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador to remain in the country. The refugees found haven in churches and synagogues, whose members put pressure on local city councils to curtail their cooperation with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The first cities to embrace "sanctuary policies" were Berkeley, California, and St. Paul, Minn., which passed resolutions in February 1988 opposing the federal government's policies of deporting Central American refugees. Berkeley described itself as a "City of Refuge." A number of other larger cities, including New York, issued directives ordering city employees not to report illegal immigrants to the INS unless they had committed a crime. But most of these places never formally declared themselves to be "sanctuary cities."

The New York policy toward illegal aliens was enshrined in Executive Order 124, signed by Mayor Edward I. Koch on August 7, 1989. The order prohibited city employees from providing "information respecting any alien to federal immigration authorities" unless "required by law" or in cases when the alien was suspected of "engaging in criminal activity." Koch justified the policy on pragmatic grounds, arguing that many aliens refused to make use of city services because they were afraid that they would be reported to the federal immigration authorities. The order stated that other residents would be disadvantaged "if some who live in the City are uneducated, inadequately protected from crime, or untreated from illness."

Executive Order 124 remained in force under Koch's successors, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani. The legality of the Koch order went unchallenged until 1997 when Congress adopted a new immigration law that made it illegal for cities to prohibit employees to provide information about illegal aliens to the INS. Giuliani sued the federal government over the new law, arguing that it would "create chaos in New York City," by discouraging illegal immigrants from reporting crimes and sending their children to school. A federal judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the mayor, and he was forced to modify the policy.

So who is right: Giuliani or Romney? The Romney campaign was unable to produce a citation or quote to support the governor's claim that New York "called itself a sanctuary city" under Giuliani. On the other hand, the Congressional Research Service, which provides background information to members of Congress on a bipartisan basis, has listed New York as one of several dozen cities following "sanctuary policies." [Contrary to a claim by the Romney campaign, CRS does not formally label New York City a "sanctuary city."] Other cities on the CRS list include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Durham, Austin, Houston, and Seattle.

I examined the question of the Guatemalans on Romney's lawn in a previous post. Romney is technically correct in saying that the Guatemalans did not work directly "for" him: they worked for a company that he contracted to look after his grounds. On the other hand, Giuliani is correct in saying that the Guatemalans worked "at" the Romney mansion.

It boils down to a question of semantics: "at" versus "for". Take your pick.

The Pinocchio Test

Both Giuliani and Romney are attempting to walk a very fine line, painting the most negative possible picture of their rival's record while avoiding factual error. In the particular exchange cited above, Giuliani has managed this feat a little more adroitly than Romney. Romney makes two mistakes. (1) His campaign has not provided support for his claim that New York "called itself a sanctuary city." (2) Illegal immigrants did work "at" his mansion. Two Pinocchios for the governor.

(About our rating scale.)

I have been tough on Giuliani in the past, see here, here, and here, so I am going to give him a pass this time. Lately, it seems, everybody has been finding fault with him. See this NYT story today. I note that the mayor made a sort of correction to his claim over the weekend that "violent crime" had risen in Massachusetts under Romney, which earned him two Pinocchios. He now says that Romney's record was "mixed."

"For example, murder went up by 7.5 percent. Burglary went up. One other category of violent crime went up. Some categories of violent crime went down. So, it would be fair to say it's a mixed record."

By Michael Dobbs  | November 30, 2007; 8:40 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, Immigration  
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Next: A 'Superhighway' to Nowhere

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