WASHINGTON – Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani campaigned Monday at a landmark South Philadelphia cheesesteak stand that grabbed headlines when it posted signs telling customers to speak English.
In June 2006, Geno's Steaks garnered national attention for posting two small signs stating, "This is America: When ordering 'please speak English."'
Giuliani, who has toughened his stance on immigration policy since his time as mayor of New York City, said recently that all immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens should learn English. Giuliani also opposed the bipartisan immigration overhaul backed by President Bush.
Yet as mayor of New York, Giuliani often spoke positively about illegal immigrants, telling The New York Times in 1994, "If you come here, and you work hard, and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you're one of the people who we want in this city."
Giuliani denied changing his view on immigration.
"Immigration is wonderful," Giuliani said. "Immigration is the best thing we have going for us. We need new people. We need people who are going to inform us, give us new ideas, but it has to be legal.
"Illegal immigration is a bad thing."
Both Giuliani and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have spoken favorably of 2006 legislation providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants; they opposed a similar bill earlier this year.
Giuliani has pledged to closely track immigrants with tamperproof identity cards, bolster fencing and high-tech surveillance along the border with Mexico and deport illegal immigrants who commit felonies.
Geno's owner Joe Vento said he posted the signs because of concerns over immigration reform and the increasing number of people who could not order in English.
Vento said his grandparents struggled to learn English after arriving from Sicily in the 1920s, and insisted that no one has ever been turned away from his business for not speaking English.
A discrimination case by the city's human relations commission is pending against Geno's.
Geno's, along with cross-street rival Pat's King of Steaks, is crowded round-the-clock with tourists and locals lining up for the signature Philadelphia sandwiches.