Rudy, the GOP and Immigration

As readers of this blog are aware I believe the Republicans handling of the immigration issue in recent years has been catastrophic for their Party. In 2005 national Republicans, driven by a narrow slice of their electoral base, abandoned Bush's more modern approach to immigration and race and have now made scapegoating immigrants - Hispanics in particularly - a core part of what has been a clearly losing strategy. This is a topic we've covered at length here on the blog, and in the immigration section of our main site.

The struggle inside the GOP between the modern Bush and more nativistic Tancredo approaches to immigration will be on display in Miami a week from Sunday as the Republican Presidential candidates gather for their Univision debate. It promises to be quite a show. Last week NY Times columnist David Brooks explored this tension in a remarkable column about Rudy Giuiliani's evolving views on immigration. An extended excerpt:

“I’m pleased to be with you this evening to talk about the anti-immigrant movement in America,” he said, “and why I believe this movement endangers the single most important reason for American greatness, namely, the renewal, reformation and reawakening that’s provided by the continuous flow of immigrants.”

Giuliani continued: “I believe the anti-immigrant movement in America is one of our most serious public problems.” It can “be seen in legislation passed by Congress and the president.” (Republicans had just passed a welfare reform law that restricted benefits to legal immigrants.) “It can be seen in the negative attitudes being expressed by many of the politicians.”

Giuliani said, somewhat unfairly, that the anti-immigrant movement at that time continued the fear-mongering and discrimination of the nativist movements of the 1920s and the Know-Nothing movement of the 19th century. He celebrated Abraham Lincoln for having the courage to take on the anti-immigrant forces. He detailed the many ways immigration benefits the nation.

Then he turned to the subject of illegal immigration: “The United States has to do a lot better job of patrolling our borders.” But, he continued, “The reality is, people will always get in.”

“In New York City,” he said, “we recognize this reality. New York City’s policy toward undocumented immigrants is called ‘Executive Order 124.’ ” This order protected undocumented immigrants from being reported when they used city services. Giuliani was then fighting the federal government, which wanted to reverse it.

“There are times,” he declared, “when undocumented aliens must have a substantial degree of protection.” They must feel safe sending their children to school. They should feel safe reporting crime to the police. “Similarly, illegal and undocumented immigrants should be able to seek medical help without the threat of being reported. When these people are sick, they are just as sick and just as contagious as citizens.”


Just last year, I saw him passionately deliver remarks at the Manhattan Institute Hamilton Award Dinner in which he condemned the “punitive approach” to immigration, “which is reflected in the House legislation that was passed, which is to make it a crime to be an illegal or undocumented immigrant.”

To “deal with it in a punitive way,” he said then, “is actually going to make us considerably less secure than we already are.” The better approach, he continued, is to embrace the Senate’s comprehensive reform and to separate the criminal illegals from the hard-working ones.

These speeches are the real Rudy. These speeches represent the Rudy who once went overboard and declared, “If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you’re one of the people who we want in this city.”


Of course it hasn’t turned out that way. At the moment, Giuliani and fellow moderate Mitt Romney are attacking each other for being insufficiently Tancredo-esque. They are not renouncing the policies they championed as city and state officials, but the emphasis as they run for federal office is all in the other direction. In effect, they are competing to drive away Hispanic votes and make the party unelectable in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Florida and the nation at large.

In this way, they are participating in the greatest blown opportunity in recent political history. At its current nadir, the G.O.P. had been blessed with five heterodox presidential candidates who had the potential to modernize the party on a variety of fronts. They could be competing to do that, but instead they are competing to appeal to the narrowest slice of the old guard and flatter the most rigid orthodoxies of the Beltway interest groups. Giuliani could have opened the party to the armies of dynamism — the sort of hard-working strivers who live in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; instead he has shelved one of his core convictions.