The Romney campaign dubbed Texas. Gov. Rick Perry’s accusations that the former Massachusetts governor employed illegal immigrants as a “personal, cheap shot,” that came from someone who came to tonight’s debate “angry” and “out to get Mitt Romney.”
Perry accused Romney of hiring illegal immigrants at his Massachusetts home during tonight’s CNN debate in Las Vegas, recalling a story first reported by The Boston Globe in 2007 when it discovered that lawn workers at the Romney’s Belmont home were not in the country legally.
“Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year,” said Perry. “And the idea that you stand here before us and [say] that you’re strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.”
The issue of illegal immigration has pitted Perry and Romney against one another again and again this campaign cycle. While Perry has said he does not support a fence across the border between the U.S. and Mexico, Romney has advocated for one, arguing that employers in America are acting as “magnets” to illegal immigrants who are looking for work and whose legality is never properly checked.
At the Fox News debate in September, Perry accused Romney of “not having a heart,” after Romney said he opposed giving in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants. Romney in turn responded by saying, “I think if you’re proposed to illegal immigration it doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart it means you have a heart and a brain.”
Tonight, the back and forth over illegal immigration didn’t die down, the duo going back and forth and interrupting each other repeatedly. “Rick, I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life,” said Romney, prompting a back and forth argument between him and Perry during which Romney asked, “I’ll tell you what, let me take my time, and then you can take your time. All right?”
Romney later went on to explain what happened back in 2006, when the story was first reported.
“We hired a lawn company to mow our lawn, and they had illegal immigrants that were working there. And when that was pointed out to us, we let them go,” said Romney, as Perry interrupted him again. “I suggest if you want to become president you have to allow both people to speak.”
“So we went to the company and we said, look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property,” said Romney. “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals. It turns out that once question, they hired someone who had falsified their documents, had documents, and therefore we fired them.”
Romney then quickly turned the accusation into a talking point, reiterating his suggestion that an e-verify system be put in place to check the status of employees getting hired for work.
Campaign advisors echoed Romney’s remarks after the debate.
“We’re not surprised that Rick Perry came in armed with personal cheap shots, were not surprised [this issue] came up, but it’s an old story and the facts are well known,” said senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom.
“Mitt Romney hired a legitimate company, the company in turn hired illegal immigrants, when it was pointed out to Mitt Romney he told the company to correct the problem,” said Fehrnstrom. “When the company failed to correct the problem he fired them.”
Another senior advisor said after the debate that the campaign was actually surprised it “took this long for this story to come out.”
Perry’s campaign also issued a press release regarding the illegal employees, writing, “Despite tough talk directed at employers hiring illegal aliens, it was discovered in the last campaign that Romney went a decade without checking the citizenship status of those who tended to his 2.5 acre lawn.”
The Globe’s first report ran in December 2006 and in a follow up piece the following year discovered that illegal immigrants were still working for the Romneys.
At the time the story broke, the Romney campaign released the following statement to the paper: “After this same issue arose last year, I gave the company a second chance with very specific conditions.”
“They were instructed to make sure people working for the company were of legal status. We personally met with the company in order to inform them about the importance of this matter,” read the statement. “The owner of the company guaranteed us, in very certain terms, that the company would be in total compliance with the law going forward.”