Romney Fires His Lawn Men

By: By Glen Johnson
By: By Glen Johnson

(AP) Republican Mitt Romney, ridiculed by rival Rudy Giuliani for employing illegal immigrants at his "sanctuary mansion," said Tuesday he had fired the landscaper for his suburban Boston home after learning for a second time about undocumented workers laboring on the property.

In a statement issued after he concluded his campaign appearances for the day, Romney said: "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," he said. "The owner of the company guaranteed us, in very certain terms, that the company would be in total compliance with the law going forward."

Romney termed the recurrence "disappointing and inexcusable." The company, Community Lawn Service of Chelsea, Mass., did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The former Massachusetts governor has made the fight against illegal immigration a core theme of his White House run.

His three-point plan includes building fences along the U.S.-Mexico border; developing a tamperproof ID card so only legal immigrants can work and cutting off federal money to "sanctuary cities" providing safe haven to illegal immigrants.

During a debate last week in St. Petersburg, Fla., Romney chastised Giuliani for continuing sanctuary status for New York while he served as the city's mayor. That prompted Giuliani to accuse Romney of owning a "sanctuary mansion" after The Boston Globe reported last year his landscaper employed illegal workers.

Romney denied the charge, saying he wasn't responsible for a legal company hiring illegal workers. He also grew indignant, trying to turn the criticism against Giuliani.

Romney said it would "not be American" to check the papers of workers employed by a contractor simply because they have a "funny accent."

Yet the paper, in a follow-up report, said it observed at least two illegal workers on Romney's property the morning after the debate, raking leaves from the grass and debris from the tennis court. The newspaper said it had also observed the same workers during the prior two months.

The Globe said it interviewed the two workers and one said he had paid $7,000 to a smuggler to escort him across the desert into Arizona. The other said he had come to the country with a student visa that has since expired.

The newspaper contacted the Romney campaign Tuesday for comment, prompting the candidate to draft a two-paragraph letter to Ricardo Saenz, the company's owner, informing him of the termination.

Saenz is a legal immigrant from Colombia who met Romney by attending his Mormon church. Saenz did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press placed to his company headquarters.

"As soon as we were given credible information that people assigned to work on the governor's property were not of legal status, we acted," Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said. "The governor has been on the road almost constantly since the beginning the year and hasn't interacted with the people working on his lawn."

Last year, workers said that Romney sometimes waved as they tended to the grounds, occasionally calling out, "Buenos dias." They also said Romney's wife, Ann, brought the workers water one especially hot day.

Katie Levinson, speaking for Giuliani's campaign, said of the recurrence: "I think it speaks for itself."

Todd Harris, speaking for rival Fred Thompson, said: "First Mitt Romney was for illegal immigrants working on his lawn, and then he was against it, then for it, and now I guess he's against it again. Sounds like his position on amnesty."

In fact, Romney's opponents have not accused him of favoring the use of illegal immigrants on his property. Rather, they've asserted he was not sufficiently attentive to the matter and they've cast that as emblematic of softness on illegal immigration.

© MMVII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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