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GOP rivals spar on immigration

They debate border control, sanctuary cities

The campaigns of rival Republican presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney yesterday stepped up their efforts to out-tough each other on the issue of illegal immigration.

Reacting to Romney's repeated characterizations of New York City as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants during Giuliani's term, Giuliani's campaign fired back yesterday, questioning why Romney, as governor, never tried to crack down on Cambridge and Somerville, two Massachusetts cities that called themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants, while he was in office.

Romney's camp, which has zeroed in on Giuliani's pro-immigrant policies as a potential soft spot, dismissed the charge as a red herring and challenged Giuliani to "explain or disavow these city sanctuary policies."

During stops in South Carolina yesterday, Giuliani reiterated his plan for tight border controls, including a 700-mile fence, another 1,200 miles of "technological fence," a tamper-proof identification card, and a database that would be used to track all non-citizens.

"I promise you, we can end illegal immigration," he told a group at a local community center in Aiken, S.C., according to the Associated Press. Giuliani has consistently framed immigration as a security issue first and has had less to say about what he would do about the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.

While mayor, Giuliani was a strong defender, publicly and in the courts, of an executive order, promulgated by his predecessor Ed Koch in 1989, that prohibited city agencies from providing federal authorities with the immigration status of residents seeking city services unless there was evidence of criminal activity.

New York does not call itself a sanctuary, but Giuliani, as a presidential candidate, has come under fire for his comments regarding illegal immigrants while mayor, particularly at a 1994 press conference when he said: "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. You're somebody that we want to protect, and we want you to get out from under what is often a life of being like a fugitive, which is really unfair."

At the same time, Giuliani was also highly critical of federal immigration authorities who he said failed to deport all of the illegal immigrants guilty of criminal activity who were referred to them by the city.

In response to Romney's criticisms in recent days, Giuliani senior adviser Jim Dyke yesterday tried to turn the tables on Romney, who was campaigning in Oklahoma and Texas.

"Why should the American people believe Governor Romney has the right kind of executive experience for America when he claims he was powerless to take action against the three sanctuary cities in Massachusetts who refused to enforce illegal immigration laws?" the statement said. "If there were 'statutes' or 'formulas' standing in Romney's way, then why didn't he take action to change them?"

He was referring to the Massachusetts cities of Cambridge, Somerville, and Orleans, which to varying degrees had declared themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. Since 1985, Cambridge has instructed city officials not to involve themselves in enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Kevin Madden, Romney press secretary, said the Dykes remark had "zero substance and contains no effective rebuttal. The refusal to either explain or disavow these sanctuary-city policies informs the voter of exactly where Mayor Giuliani stands on the issue of enforcement of immigration laws."

At a campaign stop on Monday at San Ysidro, Calif., near the US-Mexican border, Romney repeated his call "to shut down the magnet of these sanctuary cities -- of these cities that call themselves a zone for protection where their city workers and other agencies are providing cover for those who are here illegally," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Romney, who has mentioned New York and Giuliani in the past, did not name either on Monday. He said that as president he would cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities, but did not respond directly to a question about his response to Cambridge's status, the newspaper said.

As governor, Romney never directly addressed the issue of sanctuary cities. His strongest stand on illegal immigration resulted in a successful veto of tuition discounts at state colleges for illegal immigrants.

Regarding sanctuary cities, Madden said yesterday: "Governor Romney worked out an agreement with the federal government to deputize state troopers to enforce immigration laws in Massachusetts, in an effort to negate local sanctuary city policies and the lax enforcement of existing laws. Unfortunately, localities like Cambridge and New York City enact these sanctuary city policies in defiance of federal immigration laws, not state laws."

That state trooper initiative, signed by Romney three weeks before leaving office, was largely ridiculed as grandstanding by critics who said he was burnishing his conservative credentials for a presidential run. The troopers never underwent training by the federal government, and Governor Deval Patrick, the Democrat who succeeded him, rescinded the agreement a week after taking office.

Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff contributed to this report.