Immigration was the key issue at Wednesday night’s Republican debate hosted by CNN and YouTube. Republican presidential hopefuls sparred over sanctuary cities, driver’s licenses, border security and education. We play an excerpt of the debate. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the issue of immigration. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, immigration was the key issue at Wednesday night’s Republican debate hosted by CNN and YouTube. Republican presidential hopefuls sparred over sanctuary cities, driver’s licenses, border security and education. It was a contest to demonstrate who would be the toughest on “illegal” immigration. Even the most explicitly anti-immigrant candidate, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, noted that the others were “trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo.”
A question on sanctuary cities prompted a heated exchange between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
ERNIE NARDI: This is Ernie Nardi from Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, New York, with a question for the ex-Mayor Giuliani. Under your administration, as well as others, New York City was operated as a sanctuary city, aiding and abetting illegal aliens. I would like to know, if you become president of the United States, will you continue to aid and abet the flight of illegal aliens into this country?
ANDERSON COOPER: Mayor Giuliani?
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: Ernie, that was a very good question. And the reality is that New York City was not a sanctuary city. [inaudible] single illegal immigrant that New York City could find, that either committed a crime or were suspected of a crime. That was in the executive order originally done by Ed Koch, continued by David Dinkins and then done by me.
The reason for the confusion is, there were three areas in which New York City made an exception. New York City allowed the children of illegal immigrants to go to school. If we didn’t allow the children of illegal immigrants to go to school, we would have had 70,000 children on the streets at a time in which New York City was going through a massive crime wave, averaging 2,000 murders a year, 10,000 felonies a week. The other two exceptions related to care, emergency care, in the hospital and being able to report crimes. If we didn’t allow illegals to report crimes, a lot of criminals would have gone free, because they’re the ones who had the information.
But, most important point is, we reported thousands and thousands and thousands of names of illegal immigrants who committed crimes to the immigration service. They did not deport them. And what we did, the policies that we had, were necessary, because the federal policies weren’t working. The federal policies weren’t working in stopping people coming into the United States. If I were president of the United States, I could do something about that, by deploying a fence, by deploying a virtual fence, by having a BorderStat system like my ComStat system that brought down crime in New York, and just stopping people from coming in and then having a tamper-proof ID card.
ANDERSON COOPER: Time. Governor Romney, was New York a sanctuary city?
MITT ROMNEY: Absolutely. It called itself a sanctuary city. And as a matter of fact, when the Welfare Reform Act that President Clinton brought forward said that they were going to end the sanctuary policy of New York City, the mayor actually brought a suit to maintain its sanctuary city status.
And the idea that they reported any illegal alien that committed a crime — how about the fact the people who are here illegally are violating the law? They didn’t report everybody they found that was here illegally.
And this just happens to be a difference between Mayor Giuliani and myself, and probably others on this stage as well, which is we’re going to have to recognize in this country that we welcome people here legally. But the mayor said — and I quote almost verbatim — which is if you happen to be in this country in an undocumented status — and that means you’re here illegally — then we welcome you here, we want you here, we’ll protect you here. That’s the wrong attitude. Instead, we should say, if you’re here illegally, you should not be here. We’re not going to give you benefits, other than those required by the law, like healthcare and education, and that’s the course we’re going to have to pursue.
ANDERSON COOPER: Mayor Giuliani?
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: It’s unfortunate, but Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he’s had far the worst record. For example, in his case, there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them.
There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed, not being turned in to anybody or by anyone. And then, when he deputized the police, he did it two weeks before he was going to leave office, and they never seemed to even catch the illegal immigrants who were working at his mansion. So I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city.
ANDERSON COOPER: Alright, I’ve got to allow — Governor Romney, just respond. Then we’ll move on.
MITT ROMNEY: Mayor, you know better than that.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: No, I —
MITT ROMNEY: Yeah? OK, then listen, alright? Then listen. First of all —
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: You did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn’t you?
MITT ROMNEY: No, I did not. So let’s just talk about that. Are you suggesting, Mr. Mayor — because I think it’s really kind of offensive, actually, to suggest — to say, look, you know what, if you’re a homeowner and you hire a company to come provide a service at your home — paint the home, put on the roof — if you hear someone that’s working out there — not that you’ve employed, but that the company has — if you hear someone with a funny accent, you, as a homeowner, are supposed to go out there and say, “I want to see your papers.” Is that what you’re suggesting?
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: What I’m suggesting is, if you —
MITT ROMNEY: No, no, that’s what I’m asking.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: If you are going to —
MITT ROMNEY: Let me just — let me finish the rest of my story.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: If you’re going to take —
MITT ROMNEY: Let me finish the rest of my story.
ANDERSON COOPER: You asked him a question. Let him respond, and we’ve got to move on.
MITT ROMNEY: OK.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: If you’re going to take this holier than thou attitude, that your whole approach to immigration was so perfect —
MITT ROMNEY: I’m sorry, immigration is not holier than thou, Mayor. It’s the law.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: If you’re going to take this holier than thou attitude that you were perfect on immigration —
MITT ROMNEY: I’m not perfect.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI: It just happens you have a special immigration problem that nobody else up here has. You were employing illegal immigrants. That is a pretty serious thing. They were under your nose. And —
MITT ROMNEY: I ask the mayor again: are you suggesting, Mayor, that if you have a company that you hired to provide a service, that you now are responsible for going out and checking the employees of that company, particularly those that might look different or don’t have an accent like yours, and ask for their papers? I don’t think that’s American, number one. Number two —
ANDERSON COOPER: We got to move on.
MITT ROMNEY: Let me tell you what I did as governor. I said no to driver’s licenses for illegals. I said, number two, we’re going to make sure that those that come here don’t get a tuition break in our schools, which I disagree with other folks on that one. Number three, I applied to have our state police enforce the immigration laws in May, seven months before I was out of office. It took the federal government a long time to get the approvals, and we enforced the law. And Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state, and the policies of the mayor of pursuing a sanctuary nation or pursuing a sanctuary city —
ANDERSON COOPER: We’ve got a number —
MITT ROMNEY: — are, frankly, wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney versus Rudy Giuliani in the Republican presidential debate. The first question was around immigration. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. It was amazing that this was the first question, and it began to dominate, obviously, the debates. These were actually also the most watched of all of the debates so far; about, I think, four million people watched them. And it sort of signals that immigration has become such a major domestic issue now in these debates.
And interestingly enough, you have the two candidates who probably had the — Republican candidates, who probably had the most moderate immigration policies, each one trying to outdo the other on how anti-immigrant he has now become. It’s most amazing even for Rudy Giuliani to bring up the issue of Romney employing immigrant workers, undocumented immigrant workers, when his own police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, had to withdraw himself as a candidate for Homeland Security chief when he admitted that he was employing undocumented workers in his household.
And it just shows you, once again, that not only the — well, the Republicans, before the Democratic candidates — how you deal with the growing immigration problem in the country and how you deal with twelve million undocumented workers is going to become a huge issue in the coming campaign. And we’re going to be able to have a little bit of a chance to expand on that next week, Amy, aren’t we?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. On Tuesday, we will be joined by Lou Dobbs on Democracy Now! for the hour, and if you have questions or comments that you’d like to share, you can email us at email@example.com.