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Fending off an attack by Romney that implied he was soft on illegal immigration, Rudy Giuliani asked the former Massachusetts governor: "You did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn't you?"
Romney's response was a flat, "No, I did not."
Romney did amend that statement with a vague ramble that homeowners shouldn't have to ask for the papers of anyone with a funny accent who is working on their house.
But he never corrected or clarified his initial response, which is barely true.
It's not as if Romney was caught off guard. Giuliani has leveled this charge before. It's good opposition research that comes courtesy of the Boston Globe. It broke the story about Romney's hired help late last year.
The newspaper sent a team of reporters to Guatemala after getting a tip that Romney had hired a landscaping company notorious for using illegal immigrants.
Reporters tracked down three former landscapers who claimed to have been in the United States illegally when they worked on Romney's lawn.
One of the workers, Rene Alvarez Rosales, said he worked for Romney eight years landscaping his lawn, occasionally getting a "buenos dias" from Romney himself. Others told the Globe of casual encounters with Romney over the years, during which he had never inquired about their status.
The Globe said Romney, for an entire decade, used a landscaping company that relied on illegal Guatemalan immigrants. Employees at the company, Community Lawn Service with a Heart, said its owner hadn't asked them to provide documents showing their immigration status.
The workers said they were paid $9 to $10 an hour, in cash, for working sometimes 11 hours a day.
When confronted by Globe reporters about the landscapers, Romney replied, "Aw geez," and walked away. Several hours later, the Globe said, a spokesman issued a statement that the governor knows nothing about the immigration status of the landscaping workers, and that his dealings were with owner of the company, who is a legal immigrant from Colombia. The owner of the company told the Globe that Romney never asked him about the status of the workers.
A day after the Globe story, the Los Angeles Times followed up. This time, a Romney spokesman said "Gov. Romney has no information or knowledge to corroborate the Globe's allegations. He hired a legitimate lawn service company and he knows the owner as a decent, hardworking person who is a legal resident." Later, the standard reply from Romney's campaign didn't even contest that the landscaping company working on his lawn had hired illegal immigrants. Rather, the campaign draws a distinction between the company and its employees.
"Governor Romney hired a company, not the individuals who were not of legal status," Romney's spokesman, Kevin Madden, told the McClatchy-Tribune News Service in November. "The owner of the company was a legal immigrant who claimed that workers were legal, though he did not request documentation."
Considering Romney's forceful rhetoric on illegal immigrants, this explanation hasn't satisfied his opponents. Since April, the Democratic National Committee has hammered Romney with frequent citations of the Globe article.
Even nice guy Mike Huckabee has joined Giuliani, piling on after Romney criticized him over his plans to offer tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants while serving as governor in Arkansas.
Huckabee, appearing on Fox News Channel, said, "I guess Mitt Romney would rather keep people out of college so they can keep working on his lawn."
Romney's "I did not" statement racks up a barely true on the Truth-O-Meter. We cut him a little slack for doing what most Americans would do and rely on the legal status of the company hired to do the job. But he could have scored even better if he had at least spoken about his own situation, rather than speaking in general terms about the pitfalls of finding good legal help.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
Los Angeles Times, "Workers a Thorny Issue for Romney; The Massachusetts governor lawn crew included illegal immigrants a newspaper reports," Dec. 2, 2006
PR Newswire, "DNC: No Amnesty for Romney for Immigration Flip-Flops," Aug. 16, 2007
The Associated Press, "Huckabee: Romney wants illegal immigrants working on his lawn," Nov. 14, 2007
McClatchy-Tribune News Service, "Out of Bounds: Romney on Immigration Record," Nov. 9, 2007
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