The long-simmering issue of whether Mitt Romney hired illegal immigrants to tend to his lawn boiled over in the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas when Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged the former Massachusetts governor’s credibility on the issue.
|Mitt Romney and Rick Perry exchanged heated words on illegal immigration during the GOP debate Tuesday night. (AP Photo)
Perry, who has himself been stung by opponents on the issue of illegal immigration for allowing in-state college tuition for children of illegals, fired the opening salvo at Romney in answering a question about Texas having a high rate of children without health insurance. He implied that many of those children are illegals whose parents are drawn to the country by a “magnet.”
“And the magnet is called jobs. And those people that hire illegals ought to be penalized. And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.”
The comment sparked a lengthy and heated exchange between the two, with Romney immediately declaring, “Rick, I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life.”
However, various examinations have concluded that Romney did indeed have illegals working for him. The Boston Globe reported in December 2006 that illegals from Guatemala had been tending Romney’s 2½ acres for at least eight years. The workers, who also took care of lawn work at Romney’s son’s house, were employed by the Community Lawn Service with a Heart.
The Globe reported that Romney never inquired about their status, and Romney blamed the contractor, saying he was unaware of the immigration status of the workers. He returned to that defense in the debate when questioned why the company was not immediately dismissed from his employ.
“So we went to the company and we said, look, you can't have any illegals working on our property. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals,” Romney said. “It turns out that once questioned, they hired someone who had falsified their documents, had documents, and therefore we fired them.
“And let me tell you, it is hard in this country as an individual homeowner to know if people who are contractors working at your home, if they have hired people that are illegal.”
Perry, however, was not willing to let Romney off the hook and brought up other Romney stands on immigration.
“You stood here in front of the American people and did not tell the truth that you had illegals working on your property,” he said. “And the newspaper came to you and brought it to your attention, and you still, a year later, had those individuals working for you.
“The idea that you can sit here and talk about any of us having an immigration issue is beyond me. I've got a strong policy. I've always been against amnesty. You, on the other hand, were for amnesty.”
Romney’s various positions on illegal immigration were closely examined in his previous run for the presidency. A Washington Post fact check in 2007 noted, “Illegal immigration was not a big issue for Romney when he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002.
“He vetoed a proposal to allow the children of illegal immigrants to benefit from in-state tuition rates at local universities and opposed the idea of drivers licenses for illegals.”
The Post also noted that Romney, in a November 2005 interview with the Boston Globe, appeared to support immigration reform advanced by Sen. John McCain that many have dubbed amnesty. Romney rejects that characterization and while noting on a campaign website that he said provisions in the bill were “reasonable" added that he “explicitly refused to endorse it.”
Romney has since made many comments opposing amnesty.
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