New York at war with Washington

The mayor of the 'capital of the world' is fighting anti-immigrant hysteria whipped up by the White House, writes John Carlin

"If the know-nothings come to power," wrote Abraham Lincoln, "I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York, borrowed that quote in a recent speech to dramatise his disgust at the petty-minded xenophobia gripping Washington these days.

Lincoln's "know-nothings" belonged to a movement of mid-19th century political agitators who succeeded in whipping up Americans into a frenzy of anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant sentiment. Giuliani's "know- nothings", as he explained on Thursday, are "people who try politically to take advantage" of those Americans "who have a very negative view of immigration in this country because they are very frightened of people who look different, people who talk different".

Such a view, the polls show, represents majority opinion in America today. "That is the prevailing view of new people," Mayor Giuliani acknowledged. "We go through these cycles when we're afraid for a while. That's been true of this country for 150 years."

The paranoia on the ground is stoked and fed in Washington, where President Bill Clinton signed a Republican-inspired "welfare reform law" in August whose provisions severely punish foreigners who seek residence - whether by legal or illegal means - in the United States. It is in a similar spirit that the Clinton administration is striving to look tough on the United Nations by making a scapegoat out of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and that both Republicans and Democrats have agreed to impose sanctions on countries like Britain and Canada that do business with Cuba.

Mayor Giuliani, a man with the looks and moral severity of a Vatican cardinal, has stood alone among high-profile American politicians to combat the predominant hysteria, making immigration his battleground to pit the cosmopolitan metropolis of New York - which he likes to describe as "the capital of the world" - against the narrow provincialism of Washington.

In so doing he has exposed Washington's best-known dirty little secret, that those who make the nation's laws in the White House and Congress are motivated primarily not by what is good for the nation, much less the world, but by their own desires for re-election.

In June, making a last-ditch effort to stop the anti-immigrant law from taking effect, Mayor Giuliani lashed out at his own party, calling on Bob Dole and other Republican leaders to refrain from election-year "political pandering". Mr Dole, he said, should demonstrate that he is "a leader and a statesman" and not "cave in to public opinion polls" showing that the majority of Americans favoured reduced levels of immigration.

Richard Schwartz, a senior adviser to Mayor Giuliani, expanded on his boss's unusually candid views. "In other parts of the country, elected officials think it's good politics to be anti-immigration. We say maybe it's good politics, but it's not good policy, because what we find is that immigrants are hard-working job creators whose presence tends to revive flagging city communities. And not only is it bad policy, it's immoral, because all of us are descended from immigrants, save for the Native Americans."

Mayor Giuliani is taking his battle against Washington to the courts. Without necessarily meaning to, the opening words of the legal complaint convey the imperious disdain New Yorkers notoriously feel towards their Little American cousins. "The City of New York, and Rudolph W Giuliani, as mayor of the City of New York, Plaintiffs - against - The United States of America, and Janet Reno, as Attorney-General of the United States, Defendants."

New York's case challenges the constitutionality of two provisions in the Welfare Reform Act. These impose a legal obligation on the police and all employees of New York city to report to the immigration authorities any illegal aliens who come to their attention. These provisions contradict a New York statute that specifically orders city employees not to transmit information regarding "any alien" to the immigration authorities unless exceptional circumstances apply. "New York is the only city that has these rules and it sticks in the craw of legislators in Washington that New York does this," Mr Schwartz said.

But does New York have any justification for sticking it to them in the first place, or is this just another example of Big Apple arrogance? Because as New York's legislative enemies in Washington see it, Mayor Giuliani, by seemingly encouraging illegal immigration, has taken the contrariness of America's wealthiest, most famous city to new heights.

Mr Schwartz said that the mayor was most definitely not in favour of illegal immigration. "But stemming the tide is unquestionably the federal government's problem. Our problems, once these individuals are in, are quite different and they will not evaporate into the ether because of this new legislation."

In the view of Mayor Giuliani the new legislation will pose grave dangers to a city whose illegal alien population is estimated at 400,000. It will make illegal aliens fearful of making contact with anyone employed by the city and, as a potentially "catastrophic consequence" (in the mayor's words), they will not come forward as witnesses or victims to a crime; they will not seek treatment if they are infected with contagious diseases; they will not send their 70,000 to 80,000 children to school, risking an epidemic of poverty and street crime.

No less counter-productive, Mayor Giuliani believes, are the provisions in the welfare reform law which cut off benefits to unemployed, disabled and elderly legal immigrants and deny them access to government health care for the first five years of their stay in the US. The New York Times, weighing in alongside the mayor against Washington, called these measures "morally repugnant".

Today a third of New York's tax-paying population is foreign-born - continuing evidence, in the eyes of Mr Giuliani, whose grandmother was an Italian immigrant, that the city's wealth, vitality and unique character is driven by immigration.

Herman Badillo, a highly successful New York lawyer who moved to the US from Puerto Rico when he was 11, knows Washington well and understands well the processes by which "bad and foolish laws" are passed. He served in Congress from 1970 to 1977 before quitting with a bad taste in his mouth to serve for two years in what he considers to have been the far more useful role of deputy mayor of New York.

"In Congress the issue is not 'What should be done?' but 'How does it benefit you?'" Mr Badillo said. "One way to secure elected office is to say you are against immigrants, which is a codeword for Hispanics and Chinese. By adopting this position, however unprincipled and impractical, you are translating the prejudices of the white American majority into votes."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing