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"America’s Mayor" Rudolph Giuliani is leaning on one credential to move him into the White House: his no-nonsense approach to government.

He could point to his unprecedented cleanup of New York City streets, or his wildly successful post 9-11 leadership. But then again, who needs the reminder? He did it. We saw it. We know it.

Immigration reform would seem to be a perfect match for his skills. It is the poster child for government bureaucracy and a point of increasing shame for both parties.

But not even the no-nonsense mayor wants to touch it, and I think he’s making a big mistake.

Yesterday, an article in The New York Times highlighted the contrast between Mayor Giuliani and presidential candidate Giuliani’s language, if not philosophy, about what to do about the various facets of immigration.

Mayor Giuliani was convinced that immigrants (mostly illegal) played an essential role in his city’s economy. He advocated for $12 million to start a city agency that would assist those already here in the process of becoming citizens. He rejected calls for a change in city policy that would allow police and hospital workers to check a person’s immigration status. He even publicly condemned new anti-immigration movements, comparing them in 1996 to past discriminatory movements like the Chinese Exclusionary Act and the Know Nothing Movement. “These were movements that encouraged Americans to fear foreigners, to fear something that is different, and to stop immigration.”

Presidential candidate Giuliani doesn’t talk like that anymore. At least for the time-being, he is relying on generic buzz phrases that sit well with large swaths of his Republican constituency — “no amnesty,” “a nation of laws,” and “border control.”

His favorite campaign line is indicative of the fence-straddling game he is trying to play. Referring to Abraham Lincoln, he often says, “He made a beautiful speech in which he said the best American is not the American who has been here the longest or the one who just arrived. It is the one who understands the principles of America the best because we are a country held together by ideas.”

As a policy slogan, that’s about as vague and weak as you can get. It’s hard to believe it’s coming from a presidential candidate whose principle credential is his no-nonsense approach to government.

I think Mr. Giuliani, in theory, gets immigration reform better than most candidates. When he follows up his tough guy rhetoric with promises to welcome immigrants willing to learn the language, respect the culture, and follow the law, he is winking to the rest of the nation that a hawkish policy of mass deportation and the building of thousands of miles of fence is neither practical nor ethical, given our long-standing policy of hypocrisy. For years, we have poured billions into border enforcement while simultaneously allowing the hiring of millions of illegal immigrants to keep the country going.

The problem for Mr. Giuliani is that immigration reform theory is no longer enough. Pandering to the hard-liners will get him a lot of votes in the primary, but given his much more moderate record on immigration, it won’t convince the country he is going to translate campaign talk into policy of any type in Washington.

It will be hard enough for Mr. Giuliani to convince the country that we should vote for a Republican who believes in public funding for abortion and homosexual marriage. But if he isn’t even willing to use his one outstanding credential in order to outline a fair and effective strategy to fix immigration policy, what is he banking on? More importantly, is "America’s Mayor" fit to be America’s president?

He still has time to surprise us. President Bush and some members of congress have tried to pass legislation that recognizes the real contribution of immigrants to our economy and culture, while at the same time abolishing the rampant disrespect for law that our hypocritical system promotes. For various reasons, to date they have failed.

Nobody wants to say it, but an effective strategy necessarily will include encouraging the undocumented to come out of the shadows with an offer of eventual legal status (from the back of the line), regularizing immigration flows, and an interior crackdown on infringing employers and employees. The big fear, of course, is the cost of increased wages and benefits for the newly-documented workers.

Do we want change? This will be the cost … and I think Mr. Giuliani knows it. He also knows that in moments of crisis, the long term benefits of starting over and rebuilding an environment of legality, harmony, and respect for life far outweigh the price tag of reconstruction.

God Bless, Father Jonathan
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P.S. On Thursday I will post some of your reactions. I can only imagine what they will be!

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