MIAMI – During a campaign swing Tuesday through South Florida, Republican presidential contender Fred Thompson pushed for a crackdown on illegal immigrants and accused rival Rudy Giuliani of sheltering them as mayor of New York City.
Thompson’s first major policy proposal since he entered the race six weeks ago takes aim at so-called “sanctuary cities,” where illegal immigrants can seek social services and report crime without fear of being turned in. The former Tennessee senator’s plan aims to appeal to the conservative wing of the party, which lashed out earlier this year against legislation aimed at steering illegal immigrants toward citizenship.
Giuliani and another major candidate, Mitt Romney, reacted immediately by picking apart Thompson’s past votes on immigration, putting the contentious issue that flummoxed Congress earlier this year on the front burner of the 2008 campaign.
Thompson talked about immigration during visits Tuesday with sheriff’s deputies in Naples trained to participate in federal raids, and with a Cuban-American family in Miami that owns a fast-growing oil company.
In addition to punishing cities and states that help illegal immigrants, Thompson proposed denying federal grants to public universities that offer in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. He also picked up on the criticism that Romney has hurled for weeks at Giuliani, who, as mayor of New York City, fought a federal law that required city employees to turn in illegal immigrants seeking help.
Giuliani’s campaign responded that Thompson has opposed some anti-illegal-immigration efforts himself, including legislation that would have required employers to verify the legal status of new hires. “That’s not consistent or conservative,” said Giuliani spokeswoman Katie Levinson.
Thompson responded: “My opponents would like to focus in on a minnow and avoid looking at the whale, and the whale is that some of them have supported sanctuary cities, and as far as I know, still do. … In 1996, I helped outlaw sanctuary cities. Mayor Giuliani went to court to overturn the law we passed.”
More recently, Thompson, Giuliani and Romney all opposed legislation backed by President Bush that would have allowed illegal immigrants to earn legal status.
Thompson’s plan also calls for increasing border patrols, raiding companies that employ illegal workers, and making English the official language of the U.S., which would mean ballots and other government documents would not be translated.
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