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Defending Rudy's Immigration Switch

By Ed Koch

On April 22nd The New York Times published an article called, "Shifting Tone on Immigration, Candidate Giuliani Talks Tough." The thrust of the article is that when Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York, he defended illegal immigrants. But now that he is a candidate for president, he is tough on illegals, and condemns President Bush's program, which he describes as providing amnesty, to which Giuliani is opposed.

In support of Rudy's alleged flip-flop, the Times cited the actions he took under the executive orders he issued as mayor, which "fought federal efforts to curtail public hospital or educational services to illegal immigrants." The Times also claims that Rudy "once pushed policies like providing schooling for the children of illegal immigrants." Further, it says that "he vigorously defended the city's policy of forbidding city employees, including police and hospital workers, from asking a person's immigration status."

Normally, I am not a defender Giuliani's record as mayor. Indeed, I wrote a book entitled, "Giuliani, Nasty Man," setting forth my reasons for opposing his efforts to become U.S. Senator in New York -- he decided not to run because at the time, he had prostate cancer. The book is being republished in light of his current candidacy for president. Yet, I believe in fairness and accuracy and feel compelled to come to his defense on this issue.

It was I who issued the original executive orders which put into effect the policies the Times cited which concerned education for children here illegally, hospital care for illegal immigrants at HHC facilities for those unable to afford private physicians, and a direction to law enforcement personnel not to arrest an individual reporting a crime, simply because of undocumented (illegal) status unless he or she had committed some other crime as well.

I was attacked then by many for doing what I did until I explained that to leave undocumented children out of school would turn many of them into predators attacking other children or themselves becoming victims of pedophiles. I pointed out that to fail to provide medical care to illegals could endanger the rest of our population through the spread of contagious diseases. Finally, arresting illegals who reported assaults upon them and other crimes, could prevent the apprehension of criminals who also endangered the rest of our society. Those three executive orders were renewed by each of my three successors -- Mayors Dinkins, Giuliani and Bloomberg.

From the very start I have opposed the efforts of President Bush to provide amnesty to the estimated current 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants, and give them an opportunity to obtain U.S. citizenship without their returning to their home countries and standing in line with their fellow citizens to secure American citizenship. We have a generous immigration law allowing for nearly one million applicants to enter annually and apply for U.S. citizenship in five years. If we need additional temporary workers, particularly in agriculture allegedly to do work that Americans choose not to do, we should expand the programs permitting additional contract workers to come here and at the end of a two-year period, go home. We should provide they be treated decently, guaranteed health benefits, minimum wages, and housing, all to be bonded. To do otherwise and provide amnesty to those illegals already here, would simply encourage new illegals expecting a new amnesty down the road. There are other issues, however, where Giuliani has changed his position.

An April 29th New York Daily News editorial correctly pointed out that once supporting "sweeping federal gun control legislation," this year, he does not. Once " he defended President Bill Clinton's veto of a ban on so-called partial-birth abortion," this year, "he backed the Supreme Court in upholding such a ban." In 2004, Giuliani "supported civil unions for gay couples. Last week, he came out against them."

Controversial issues often get nuanced answers from those running for public office from President on down. The nuances are as important as a yes or no, and often provide a more thoughtful answer. It is also acceptable to have a change of heart on an issue resulting from thoughtful examination of a question or a recognition that your supporters simply reject the proposal and it doesn't involve a matter of conscience for you. Apparently, a number of former active supporters of the President's proposal for amnesty, a hot-button description as is partial-birth abortion, have or are considering ending their endorsement of it. They were listed in a New York Times editorial of April 30th as John McCain, Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

Again, from the start I've opposed the proposed legislation. It is little different than the last amnesty bill of 1986, known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which was supposed to be the last measure allowing illegals to regularize their status and become citizens.

I have identified myself politically since at least 1973 as a liberal with sanity. Others seem to be moving in that direction.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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