During Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Texas Governor Rick Perry resurrected an old scandal by accusing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney of hiring illegal immigrants to work on his home’s landscaping.
“You stood here in front of the American people and did not tell the truth, that you had illegals working on your property,” said Perry, who has had to defend his own record on immigration issues. “And the newspaper came to you and brought it to your attention, and you still, a year later, had those individuals working for you.”
Romney denied hiring illegal immigrants. “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake,” he said at the debate. “I can’t have illegals.”
The full story didn’t fit into 30-second sound bites. As Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin points out, the Romney hiring scandal dates back to two Boston Globe stories from the last election. Reporters travelled to Guatemala in 2006 and found locals who claimed to have worked on Romney’s property.
Romney did not hire the illegal immigrants personally, but he did hire the lawn-care company that employed them, Community Lawn Service with a Heart. The company’s owner claimed Romney never asked him about his workers’ legal status.
The following year, the Globe went back and found Romney was still using the company, and that the company was still using illegal immigrants. The news came as Romney was attacking former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for failing to crack down on illegal immigration into the city.
After the second story broke, Romney stopped using the company.
Perry aides explained to Politico that they think the story deserved more attention then it received in the last election. “When you make a holier-than-thou argument about it and you know about hiring illegals … it seems kind of hypocritical,” Dave Carney, Perry’s senior political advisor, said. A Perry campaign press release blasted Romney as a “fraud” on immigration.
Political observers are skeptical that the accusation will do any real damage to Romney’s perceived status as the GOP front-runner. Ed Rollins, a former Reagan White House strategist, told Politico he believes it was “not a killer issue” in 2008 because voters already considered it old news.
“The key thing here is not lying about it,” Rollins said. “I don’t know what the facts are anymore on this, but he better be able to produce the documents.”