WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Republican U.S. presidential contender Fred Thompson offered an immigration plan on Tuesday that would cut off federal grants for cities and states that fail to report illegal immigrants or offer public benefits to them.
Thompson, who has criticized 2008 Republican rival Rudy Giuliani for his record on immigration as mayor of New York, also called for stronger enforcement against illegal immigrant workers and an end to federal education grants for colleges that provide in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.
Campaigning in Florida, he unveiled an immigration plan that would boost border security patrols and increase jail space for illegal immigrants who have been arrested. He said fewer illegal immigrants would enter the country if laws were enforced to limit their work opportunities.
“It’s not only necessary for any meaningful immigration reform, but border security plays a key role in both the interdiction of illegal drugs and in defending America against terrorist threats,” Thompson said.
He did not say how much his plan would cost or how he would pay for it.
The national debate on handling the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States has been a flash point in the 2008 Republican race, with Giuliani taking heat for New York’s record as a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants using city services.
Thompson, a former Tennessee senator who attacked Giuliani on the issue at a debate in Florida on Sunday, said his plan was designed to enforce laws already in place to prevent illegal immigrants from gaining public benefits.
A Giuliani spokeswoman criticized Thompson’s record on immigration while in the Senate in the 1990s, noting he voted against several proposals to toughen enforcement, and questioned his claims on the issue.
“Where was Fred Thompson when he had the chance to tackle illegal immigration and fix a broken system?” spokeswoman Katie Levinson asked.
“He was voting against $1 billion to combat illegal immigration at the borders, against stricter employment verification and for giving illegal immigrants more benefits than we give legal immigrants,” she said.
Thompson, who formally entered the race last month, trails Giuliani in national opinion polls of Republicans. The former Hollywood actor has been criticized for failing to have a firm grasp on some issues, the immigration proposal is one of his first efforts at rolling out new policy proposals. (To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)