Wealthy Frenchman

Friday, August 17, 2007

Of Mitt, Monks, and Mowers


Mitt Romney’s campaign has been trying to position him as the conservative alternative to Rudy Giuliani. They went searching desperately for examples of Rudy’s closet liberalism that do not involve things Mitt himself was doing until about five minutes ago. (Divorces will only take you so far.) They pounced on immigration, and, suddenly, New Yorkers discovered they are living in a “sanctuary city.”

Who knew? In fact, according to Romney, New York is “the poster child for sanctuary cities in this country.” A whole new self-image thrust upon us. It’s like discovering that someone entered you in a reality contest without your knowledge and that you have been chosen to compete in “So You Want to Be a Capuchin Monk!” this fall on Fox.

At issue is the fact that, like the city’s mayors before and after, Rudy Giuliani told New York police officers, hospital workers and school officials that it was not their job to check people’s immigration status. This is a perfectly rational position. If you’ve got hundreds of thousands of undocumented people living in your town, you want them to be willing to report crimes, to go to a doctor if they have a communicable disease, to keep their kids in school and off the street.

That makes your city — a sanctuary! “Sanctuary city” is the new “amnesty” — a right-wing buzzword aimed at freaking out the red state voters. There is, of course, the small side effect of making it utterly impossible to have a rational policy-making discussion about a critical national issue.

But what the heck. We’re talking Iowa.

“If you look at the Web sites of sanctuary cities, New York is at the top of the list,” Romney told an audience there last week, launching into a plan to punish said cities by cutting off their federal funding. Iowans live in an aging farm state with a static population of about 2.9 million. According to Census Department estimates, the number of foreign-born residents has risen by about 12,000 in the last five years. You’d think they’d be happy to see somebody moving in.

To be utterly accurate, New York City is not at the top of the list on “sanctuary city” Web sites, which tend to be alphabetized. We are middle-of-the-pack people, far, far below the “C” residents in Cambridge, Mass., whose city was near the top of the list when Romney was governor.

Cheap-shot break: Mitt Romney’s well-manicured suburban lawn was kept that way by illegal immigrants. The workers were hired through a local landscaping company. The Boston Globe tracked some of them down back in their native Guatemala, and they said they worked for $9 to $10 an hour and that Romney had never inquired about their legal status, reserving his interaction to an occasional “buenos días.”

I am only bringing this up because there seems to be a modern-day political rule under which people who hire illegal immigrants as nannies become ineligible for public service in any form, while those who hire illegal immigrants as lawn mowers and hedge trimmers get a free pass. I’m sure there is an excellent reason for this that has nothing to do with the fact that the nannies do work normally performed by women while mowing the lawn is a guy’s job.

When Romney was governor, his very, very short list of anti-illegal immigrant efforts included signing a bill giving state police officers the power to enforce federal immigration laws. The impact on undocumented residents of Massachusetts was reminiscent of Mitt’s famous drive to elect more Republicans to the State Legislature, which led to an increase in the number of Democrats. One of the Romneys’ illegal immigrant gardeners told The Globe that when the state policeman who parked in the governor’s driveway all day asked for his papers, he resolved the problem by promising to go get them and then not walking past the trooper’s car anymore.

There’s nothing wrong with being worried about the nation’s porous borders, violent criminals who manage to avoid deportation and the massive number of undocumented people living here without any ties to the community. We should have this discussion. Like it or not, we’ve got 14 months of presidential campaign to go. Nobody on the voter side wants to spend it listening to politicians shriek meaningless catchphrases.

By the way, doesn’t the term “sanctuary city” sound sort of nice, actually? Remember all those sci-fi movies where the heroes were stuck in a terrible world where everybody but them was a mutant or a pod person or a hologram and their only hope was to reach a legendary and possibly mythical refuge?

Next time you hear a politician ranting about a “sanctuary city,” say: “Wasn’t that where Keanu Reeves was trying to get in “The Matrix?”


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