MITT ROMNEY is caught again in the nation's swampy immigration laws, which only shows how badly the laws need to be reformed.
Last year, Globe reporters found that the lawn at Romney's Belmont home was being maintained by a company that hired undocumented workers. It's a familiar occurrence. Consumers hire companies to provide services, and they don't know the legal status of the person doing the work - even if that consumer is a former Massachusetts governor and a Republican candidate for president.
At the time, Romney said he would look into the matter. But he invited charges of hypocrisy by hammering the illegal immigration issue on the campaign trail.
Last week, New York's former mayor, Rudy Giuliani, accused Romney of having run a "sanctuary mansion" for the undocumented immigrants who had done his yard work. It sounded like a rival trying to revive old news. Only it turns out that Romney continued to use the same landscaping company, which was still hiring undocumented workers, who admitted to Globe reporters that they were in the country illegally.
Romney will suffer from more political jabs and jokes. But the serious issue is how ugly the immigration issue has become. During a radio debate Tuesday in Iowa, Democratic candidates were even asked whether individual Americans should turn in people they know to be in the country illegally.
Thankfully, the answers were mostly no. Hillary Clinton said turning "every American into a suspicious vigilante" would do grave harm to the fabric of the nation. And in last week's debate, even Romney seemed to agree, asking Giuliani heatedly if he was suggesting that Romney should demand to see immigration papers whenever a person speaks with a "funny accent."
Give these candidates credit for rejecting what would be a civic nightmare. Encouraging individuals to act like border-control vigilantes would create a chaotic flow of true and false charges that could overwhelm immigration officials. The country would end up detaining and deporting thousands of service workers, upending the economy, and creating humanitarian crises for workers' children.
That's why immigration law has to be enforced by the federal government, which has the capacity to increase border security and create better technological ways to verify which workers are in the country legally.
As for Romney, he should return to his earlier support for the kind of comprehensive immigration solution that Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy proposed this year. It could have helped him and his landscapers. But it failed, exactly because of the type of demagoguery in which Romney has been engaging. Now he, the country, and 12 million desperate immigrants have been left in the lurch.