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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The Immigration Showdown

Romney's and Giuliani's chest-thumping on immigration leaves behind context and, in some cases, the facts.


In recent weeks, Republican presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have sparred over their immigration records and policies. We find some problems with what both of them have been saying.

  • Giuliani released a radio ad in which he says of persons applying for citizenship, "we should make certain that they can read English, write English and speak English." Actually, those already are requirements for citizenship.
  • Giuliani’s ad also said illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in the U.S. should be deported. He should have said the government needs to expel more of the convicts than it currently does.
  • Earlier, Romney said New York City was at "the top of the list" of "sanctuary cities" for aliens. That’s slightly off. It’s true that Giuliani wouldn’t allow New York City officials to turn in the names of otherwise law-abiding illegal aliens to federal immigration officials. But the city never called itself a "sanctuary city," and we find no list of such cities that puts New York at the top.


As early as July, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney accused Rudy Giuliani of presiding over a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants while mayor of New York. The battle over the candidates’ immigration records heated up in early August when Romney repeated the charge. Giuliani responded with boasts of decreased crime in New York City during his tenure. He also released a new radio ad, promoting a tough-sounding stance on immigration. While the two Republican presidential candidates were flexing their political muscles, they left out plenty of context.

First, we look at Giuliani’s radio ad, which was released Aug. 15, airing in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the following day in South Carolina. In it, he fails to explain how some of his proposals differ from immigration policy that’s already in effect.

Citizens Must Speak English

The most questionable of Giuliani’s pronouncements is his call for citizens to speak the language.

Giuliani, radio ad: And then, if anybody becomes a citizen, we should make certain that they can read English, write English and speak English, because this is an English speaking country.

The federal government agrees. Speaking, reading and writing basic English is already a requirement for those applying for naturalization. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language." The exceptions to this requirement include those age 50 and above who entered the country legally and have been permanent residents for 15 to 20 years, and those with medical conditions that impair their language abilities.

When we asked the Giuliani campaign what exactly he was calling for, a Giuliani policy adviser said that the candidate wanted "more strenuous" requirements to prove that applicants truly understood the language. The USCIS is in the process of updating the civics portion of the naturalization test, and Giuliani would like to make changes to the English portion as well. "The current requirement on reading is that you may have to read out loud some portion of the N-400 (the naturalization application), some simple sentences or some civics questions," the Giuliani adviser told FactCheck.org in an e-mail. "Reading a portion of their own application – which they are presumably very familiar with – is a bit of a gimme."

Actually, this isn’t quite correct. Prospective citizens do discuss their applications with a federal officer during an oral interview. But that’s not part of the specific English test, says Chris Rhatigan, a spokeswoman for the USCIS. For the language test, applicants are asked to read out loud a sentence that is placed in front of them. Another sentence is dictated to them by the interviewer – a "very short, simple sentence," Rhatigan says – and they are asked to write what they hear. The civics portion of the test consists of 10 questions, also given orally in English. According to a USCIS evaluation, she says, there is an 87 percent pass rate on the English portion of the test.

How much of a problem is there with citizens who don’t speak English very well? According to the Census Bureau’s 2005 American Community Survey, 61.3 percent of foreign-born naturalized citizens said they spoke English “very well” or they only spoke English. About 39 percent said they spoke English “less than very well.”

We think Giuliani’s ad falsely suggests there is no English-speaking requirement for naturalized citizens. What he should have said is that he wants to make certain those applying for U.S. citizenship can read, write and speak English better than the law now requires.

Deporting Criminals

Giuliani says in his radio ad, "It frustrates me that if someone comes here illegally, in addition to everything else that’s involved in that, if they commit a crime, we don’t throw them out of the country."

There’s a valid point to be made here, but Giuliani exaggerates. The fact is the U.S. does deport illegal aliens convicted of crimes, and the number of deportations for those with criminal charges or convictions was about 28,000 more in 2005 than it was in 1998, according to the most recent numbers available on the Department of Homeland Security’s Web site. (Illegal immigration in general increased during that time period as well.) Giuliani would be correct to say that the U.S. does not deport all aliens who are convicted of a crime and serve their sentences. To do so would cost an estimated $1 billion more than is being spent now, according to the DHS.

Rudy Giuliani Radio Ad: "Fences"

[TET ]

Announcer: Here’s Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani: It frustrates me that if someone comes here illegally, in addition to everything else that’s involved in that, if they commit a crime, we don’t throw them out of the country. As the mayor of New York I wanted to see if I could get the Immigration Service to help me. Let’s see if you could get rid of the drug dealers who are coming out of jail. It makes no sense – after they have been in jail for selling drugs in the United States – we now have to keep them in the United States. They couldn’t do it because they had other people lined up to throw out. They had like a professor who over-stayed his visa. I had a drug dealer who had maybe killed people. A person who comes here illegally and commits a crime should be thrown out of the country. People that come in illegally we gotta stop. You stop illegal immigration by building a fence, a physical fence and then a technological fence. You then hire enough Border Patrol so they can respond in a timely way. And then, if anybody becomes a citizen, we should make certain that they can read English, write English and speak English, because this is an English speaking country. [/TET]

Granted, context on an issue doesn’t always make for a good sound bite, but we think some explanation is needed here. When asked what Giuliani was calling for beyond current law, a campaign policy adviser said the candidate wants to "prioritize" the deportation of illegals convicted of felonies. The adviser cited a 2006 DHS report that outlined the challenges facing the agency in this regard. DHS estimated that in 2007, 302,500 removable aliens would be incarcerated. "Most of these incarcerated aliens are being released into the U.S. at the conclusion of their respective sentences," the report says, "because DRO [the Office of Detention and Removal] does not have the resources to identify, detain, and remove these aliens under its Criminal Alien Program (CAP)." DRO has a plan to change that and deport all illegals, but, the report says, it would need "sufficient resources [$1.1 billion], political will, and the cooperation of foreign governments." Giuliani, his policy adviser says, will implement a national strategy to expand CAP and the Institutional Removal Program at state and local levels "to once and for all address this gaping hole in community safety."

We take no issue with that proposal. But Giuliani’s ad gives the misleading impression that the U.S. is not deporting criminal illegals at all.

The Sanctuary Charge

Giuliani’s radio ad comes amid an ongoing spat between his and Romney’s campaigns over just which candidate is and has been tougher on immigration. The bluster began when Romney again made his "sanctuary" charge:

Romney, Aug. 2007, Bettendorf, Iowa: If you look at lists compiled on Web sites of sanctuary cities, New York is at the top of the list when Mayor Giuliani was mayor. He instructed city workers not to provide information to the federal government that would allow them to enforce the law. New York City was the poster child for sanctuary cities in the country.

We make no judgments as to whether being a sanctuary city or not is good policy. We do provide some context. While New York City has never officially declared itself a "sanctuary city," as other cities have, it is included in lists of jurisdictions that have provided some degree of protection for illegal immigrants. In New York, that protection came in the form of executive order 124 issued in 1989 by Mayor Edward Koch. The order, later renewed by Mayor David Dinkins and Mayor Giuliani, said that city employees were not to give federal immigration authorities the names of aliens unless the disclosure was required by law or the alien was suspected of criminal activity, "including an attempt to obtain public assistance benefits through the use of fraudulent documents."

Romney on Fox & Friends

Indeed, Giuliani has not backed away from his support of the executive order. He said in 1996 that the order was intended to protect illegal immigrants "from being reported to the INS while they are using city services that are critical for their health and safety, and for the health and safety of the entire City." For instance, it would encourage an illegal alien to report a murder he or she witnessed or to seek treatment for an infectious disease. Giuliani even filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in federal court in 1996 to challenge federal welfare and immigration policies that allowed – but did not require – city employees to turn in the names of illegals.

However, as many news organizations have pointed out, three cities in Massachusetts were "sanctuary cities" when Romney was governor: Cambridge, Orleans and Somerville, according to statements by Somerville’s mayor and a Congressional Research Service report. We find no evidence that Romney took a hard stance against those cities’ policies as governor. His campaign says he "vetoed in-state tuition at public colleges and universities for illegal immigrants, opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and signed an agreement with the federal government to allow state troopers to enforce federal immigration laws." That agreement to use troopers to catch aliens, however, was signed in the waning days of Romney’s time in office, six months after he first promoted the idea, and was promptly rescinded by his successor.

As for Romney’s claim that New York is "at the top of the list" of sanctuary cities on Web sites, we find no evidence to support the statement. We could find no list with New York at the top. We asked Romney Communications Director Matt Rhoades for an example of such a list, but he did not provide one.

– by Lori Robertson, with Justin Bank


U.S. Census Bureau. 2005 American Community Survey. “Selected Characteristics of the Native and Foreign-Born Populations.”

Department of Homeland Security. “Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2005.” Table 41. Accessed 20 Aug. 2007.

Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. “Detention and Removal of Illegal Aliens.” Apr. 2006.

Congressional Research Service. “Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement.” Updated 14 Aug. 2006.

Associated Press. “Mitt Romney Blasts Democratic Frontrunners for Economic Credentials.” FoxNews.com. 22 July 2007.

“Fox and Friends.” Interview with Former Governor Mitt Romney. Fox News Channel. 9 Aug. 2007. Video posted by Romney campaign on YouTube.

Fater, Rebecca. "Romney: State Troopers Should Have Power To Arrest Illegal Immigrants," Lowell Sun. 22 June 2006.

Tapper, Jake and Claiborne, Ron. “Romney: Giuliani’s NYC ‘Sanctuary’ for Illegal Immigrants.” ABCNews.com. 8 Aug. 2007.

Tapper, Jake and Simmonds, Jan. “Giuliani Vows to End Illegal Immigration.” ABCNews.com. 14 Aug. 2007.