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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Tough Guy on Immigration?

Romney puffs up his record.


Mitt Romney casts himself as tough on illegal immigration in a new ad in which he says that, as Massachusetts governor, “I authorized the State Police to enforce immigration laws.” He doesn’t mention that his order never took effect. It came in the closing days of his administration and was rescinded by his successor, as we wrote back in August.

He also promises, “As president, I’ll . . . cut funding for sanctuary cities.” Maybe so, but as governor he took no action against several such towns in his state.

We find Romney misleading on both counts.


Romney’s ad began airing Nov. 1 and has run in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Cops on the Case

Romney claims he put state troopers on the trail of illegals in his state.

Romney: As governor, I authorized the state police to enforce immigration laws.

Well, yes. But, as we noted in August, he didn’t do so until he had less than a month left in his term.  He was already considering running for president, and the new governor-elect was expected to rescind the arrangement.

Romney began talking about giving troopers the power to make arrests on immigration charges earlier in 2006, but he didn’t sign an agreement with the federal government – a necessary condition for that authority to be granted –  until Dec. 13 of that year. Romney was scheduled to leave office Jan. 4, 2007.  Democrat Deval Patrick, who had won the race to succeed Romney, had already said the program was a “bad idea” because troopers were busy enough as it was.

Sure enough, Patrick rescinded the agreement within his first week in office so troopers could “focus on enforcing Massachusetts laws.” The policy never had a chance to take effect, because those troopers chosen to carry it out hadn’t yet begun a required six-week training course.

Romney for President Ad: “Change Immigration”

Romney: We all know Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have it wrong on illegal immigration. Our party should not make that mistake. As Governor, I authorized the State Police to enforce immigration laws. I opposed driver’s licenses and in-state tuition for illegal aliens. As president, I’ll oppose amnesty, cut funding for sanctuary cities and secure our borders. Legal immigration is great, but illegal immigration – that’s got to stop. I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this message.

Gimme Shelter

Romney shifts to promise-making mode as he continues:
Romney: As President, I’ll oppose amnesty, cut funding for sanctuary cities and secure our borders.

Romney might well get tough on sanctuary cities in the future, but he didn’t when he was governor.

During his tenure, at least four Massachusetts cities enacted or renewed legislation declaring themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. Brookline and Cambridge reaffirmed their longtime status as sanctuary cities in so many words. Somerville and Orleans didn’t officially deem themselves “sanctuaries,” but Somerville affirmed its “long-standing policies in support of all immigrants,” while Orleans forbade city officials from turning in illegal immigrants without probable cause.

We asked Romney’s campaign if he had acted against these cities, but they didn’t provide us with any examples. As far as we were able to determine in our own research, Romney made no attempts to penalize, censure, or cut funding to them.


Romney For President Ad: ‘Change Immigration’


Zezima, Katie. “Massachusetts Rescinds Deal on Policing Immigration,” The New York Times, 12 January 2007.

Zezima, Katie. “Massachusetts Set for Its Officers to Enforce Immigration Law,” The New York Times, 13 December 2007.

Town of Brookline, MA. Board of Selectmen. Minutes. 24 Oct. 2006.

Town of Orleans, MA. “Annual and Special Town Meeting Warrants.” 12 May 2003.

City of Cambridge, MA. City Council. “Policy Order Resolution.” 8 May 2006.

City of Somerville, MA. Board of Aldermen. “Minutes of the Regular Meeting.” 11 May 2006.

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