Giuliani's Big Betrayal

Rudy abandons his role as friend to newcomers, & sinks to pandering to the anti-immigrant right

The jousting match between Republican presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney to prove who's toughest on immigration is nothing more than an exchange of sound bites and rhetoric best suited for Lou Dobbs - all enforcement, all the time. The fight offers none of the vision and leadership that this critical issue, and our nation, demands.

The spat really took off with Romney's accusation that Giuliani ran a "sanctuary city" when he was mayor because he allowed folks to report crimes to the police or seek treatment for a sick child without risking deportation - as did the two mayors before him and Mayor Bloomberg now, through a policy that keeps immigration status information confidential for individuals interacting with city workers. (Importantly, this confidentiality policy has never extended to those involved in criminal activity.) These four mayors have all recognized that while the federal government twiddled its thumbs in the face of failed immigration policies, it was their responsibility to protect the public's health and safety by ensuring that fear of deportation would not prevent immigrants from contributing to society and interacting with city government.

Sanctuary, it appears, has become the new dirty word on the campaign trail, much like amnesty, to tarnish a politician for coddling lawbreakers and to serve as a lightning rod to incite the masses. It also recklessly avoids the more complex realities involved in the immigration debate.

A pity, then, that instead of taking the opening provided by Romney's attack to elevate the discussion by explaining why a confidentiality policy serves the public interest, Giuliani continued the demagoguery tit for tat, slamming Romney for "tolerating" sanctuary cities himself.

Since the debate between the two candidates flared, Romney and Giuliani have been tripping over themselves to propose so-called solutions that include more surveillance, more border patrols, more employer sanctions. But a real solution would take into account the various factors in play in the debate: the pursuit of a better way of life by immigrants, the labor needs in our own country, the desire of families to live together and the reality that our nation does not match our need for immigrants with the number of visas it makes available for people to come here legally.

Both candidates, in an attempt to woo their conservative base, have joined the anti-immigrant bandwagon.

How short-sighted of them - especially when the only thing achieved by catering to anti-immigrant forces is a continuation of the status quo: a dysfunctional immigration system that gives rise to the very problem the hard-liners decry.

As Mayor Bloomberg says, there is no "laboratory that shows better why you need a stream of immigrants than New York City." Before Romney paints New York as a place that encourages lawlessness, he ought to walk the streets of this great city and witness the vibrant contributions immigrants have made here. And Giuliani shouldn't be contorting himself like a pretzel to distance himself from policies that are realistic and promote the public good. It's no coincidence that New York is the safest large city in the nation and has seen remarkable economic growth during a period of high immigration.

The two candidates might portray themselves as tough guys riding into town to save the day and end illegal immigration, but their bumper-sticker slogans will never replace the courage, honesty and leadership that fixing our broken immigration system demands.

Hong is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. 

ElectionsFIRM Admin