Last week’s CNN/YouTube debate reinvigorated a campaign that was in a bit of a lull heading into the primary season. It also revealed a lot about the presidential candidates and how they may approach the job, should the American people elect any of them.
The most important moment in the debate was near the beginning. When discussing the topic of illegal immigration, Mitt Romney pointed out that during Rudy Giuliani’s term as mayor of New York City, the city made exceptions to the law for illegal immigrants in allowing them to report crimes without being deported themselves. Giuliani could have left his response at the fact that it was needed to reduce New York City’s violent crimes. He could have then compared it to many other cases in criminal law where one person’s crime is overlooked if it can lead to an arrest in a more serious crime. However, Giuliani made an unfortunate mistake in his response, which highlights a major reservation people hold about him.
Giuliani brought up a case that occurred while Romney was in office in Massachusetts. The landscaping company that was contracted to maintain the Governor’s Mansion was found employing illegal immigrants. The state itself, and therefore Romney, never hired illegal immigrants. However, Giuliani still felt the issue should disqualify Romney’s positions on illegal immigration. Romney calmly reminded Giuliani that it is completely inappropriate to assume people are illegal immigrants because of the way they look or the accents with which they speak. Since neither Romney nor anyone in his administration was responsible for hiring the workers, it was up to the contractors to ensure they were employing legal workers.
Giuliani’s response to Romney is interesting. Giuliani simply accused Romney of being “holier than thou.” He didn’t say that Romney should have selected better contractors from the start. He said that it is okay to assume that anyone speaking Spanish or who has darker skin is breaking the law. Essentially, Giuliani believes that it is okay to go up to people speaking Spanish and demand to see a proof of citizenship or a visa. This is not only a terrible approach to governing, but it will also fail to solve the problems associated with illegal immigration.
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Annual Flow Report for 2006, 74 percent of the illegal immigrants in the United States enter with a visa and stay beyond their allotted time. These people are coming from all over the world: Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. In fact, several of the hijackers of 9/11 were here on expired visas.
Policy aside for a moment, the idea that a “holier than thou” candidate is somehow inherently unfit to be president seems a bit odd. We may be unwise to expect perfection from our leaders, but to a certain degree, we should expect them to be doing things better than we are. When I vote in the primary election and subsequently in the general election, I am going to be looking for the best there is to be had. I will obviously judge based on my own convictions and who I believe shares the same understanding of government as I do, but I want the best person. I do not want a charming president. I do not want a tough guy president either. I want a president who understands the system that we live in as a whole and knows what makes it great and what hurts it.
Walking up to people to check their citizenship status is not part of that great system, in my opinion. It is one thing to hold employers accountable for operating outside the law and trying to gain a competitive advantage by doing so. It is a very different thing to be checking identifications based on peoples’ appearances or accents. Giuliani’s approach to governing certainly had success in New York City. His tough attitude undoubtedly made New York safer. However, the chief diplomat and face of the United States cannot have that same attitude.
Ryan Bendinelli is a senior political science major from Millington, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]