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Illegal immigration dominates debate

Latest update : 2008-01-09

Republican presidential hopefuls exchanged blows Nov. 28 on immigration, religion, and gun control during a debate in St. Petersburg, Fla.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Reuters) - Republican
presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney angrily
accused each other on Wednesday of failing to be tough enough
on illegal immigration as fireworks erupted at a debate.

At a tense time in the Republican field with little more
than a month until Iowa starts the state-by-state U.S. election
contests, there was also a sharp exchange between Arizona Sen.
John McCain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul over Paul's demand to bring
U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Giuliani was immediately put on the defensive at the
CNN/YouTube debate when Ernie Nardi of Brooklyn Heights, New
York, asked in a videotaped question whether Giuliani had
turned a blind eye to illegal immigration when he was mayor of
New York.

Illegal immigration is a key concern for Republican voters,
with many wanting stronger enforcement of immigration laws and
better control of the U.S. border with Mexico.

Giuliani leads national polls for his party's nomination in
the November 2008 presidential election, but Romney, the former
governor of Massachusetts, is leading in the two early voting
states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Giuliani insisted he did not preside over a "sanctuary
city, where illegal immigrants enjoyed some measure of

But he added he allowed children of illegal immigrants to
go to school because otherwise, the city "would've had 70,000
children on the streets at a time when New York City was going
through a massive crime wave."

Romney scoffed, saying Giuliani had "absolutely" failed to
move against illegal immigrants in his city.

Giuliani shot back that Romney had employed illegal
immigrants at the governor's mansion in Massachusetts and
accused him of having a "holier than thou" attitude on the

"You did, you did have illegal immigrants working at your
mansion, didn't you?" Giuliani asked in a tense exchange with
Romney standing at the next podium.

"No, I did not," Romney responded, saying any illegals
would have been working for a company hired for upkeep at the

"If you hear someone with a funny accent, you as a
homeowner are supposed to go out there and say, 'Let me see
your papers?' Is that what you're asking?" he replied.

When Giuliani pressed the issue, some boos were heard in
the crowd at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Paul, a libertarian congressman from Texas, drew the ire of
McCain by saying the United States could save $1 trillion by
bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq.


McCain, who spent five years as a Vietnam prisoner of war,
said he just returned from a Thanksgiving visit to soldiers in
Iraq and their message to Americans was "let us finish" the

"I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is
what caused World War Two," McCain told Paul.

Paul fired back, "The real question you have to ask is why
do I get the most (campaign) money from active-duty officers
and military personnel?"

Romney, trying to appeal to conservatives suspicious of his
position shifts on some issues, said, "I was wrong" about once
favoring a woman's right to abortion and was now solidly

Giuliani was forced to respond to a story by
that as mayor he billed obscure city agencies for tens of
thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the
time he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future
wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons.

Giuliani said the money spent was handled by his security
personnel at a time when he had received a lot of threats.

"They took care of me and they put in their records and
they handled me the way they handled me. I had nothing to do
with the handling of their records. And they were handled, as
far as I know, perfectly appropriately," he said.

Giuliani, held in deep suspicion by the U.S. gun lobby,
heard more boos from the crowd when he answered a videotaped
question on why he required people in New York to pass an exam
to possess guns.

Giuliani said he believed existing gun laws should be
enforced aggressively and that government can impose
"reasonable regulations." But he said he supported Americans'
right to possess guns, while he did not own one.

On another question of who did own guns, Rep. Duncan
Hunter, a California Republican, said he owned a 20-gauge
shotgun; former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee said he had two
he would not identify; Romney said his son had two in their
home and McCain said he had none.

Date created : 2007-12-24