POLITICS
10/10/2011 05:41 pm ET | Updated Dec 10, 2011

Mitt Romney Goes After Employers Who Hire Undocumented Workers, Despite His Own Checkered History

MILFORD, N.H. -- Mitt Romney's tough talk on immigration continued during a town hall here on Monday, with the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate saying that employers who hire workers illegally should receive harsher punishments.

Romney relayed a conversation he had had with a border patrol agent in San Diego, who told him that a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border would do little to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants as long as a strong incentive existed for them to cross it.

"I said 'Boy, that's a lot of people [crossing the border], why do they come?'" he told a packed crowd at the sweltering Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hall in Milford, N.H. "And they said, 'because the magnet is on.' I said, 'What do you mean, the magnet?' They said, 'We have this huge magnet here which is employers are able to hire people that are here illegally and they pay them far more here then they would get paid in Mexico.' So this magnet draws them over: Employers that hire people illegally."

"So I say if you want to stop the flow of illegals, you need a fence and you have to turn off the magnets," Romney concluded. "So what I would do is, number one, have a system that makes it easy for an employer to know who is legal and not. And number two, crack down on employers that hire people illegally."

The crowd erupted in boisterous applause.

This is not the first time Romney has called for stronger crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented workers. It was part of his tough-on-illegal-immigration platform while he served as governor of Massachusetts and as he prepared for his first White House run. With his nearest competitor for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry, on the ropes, in large part because of a policy he passed granting in-state college tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants, it makes sense that Romney would only push the issue even harder.

But Romney is not exactly clean on the matter. In 2006, it was discovered that he was using a landscaping company that relied on undocumented immigrants from Guatemala. He was caught hiring another company that employed undocumented immigrants in 2007, this time to paint his Belmont mansion.

In both cases, Romney insisted that he had been unaware that the companies employed undocumented immigrants, claiming, at the time, that it was impractical to expect him to know the immigration status of all of the people working on his lawn or his house. He immediately fired both companies amid the revelations.

Yet presidential politics tend to blur these types of distinctions and explanations, and the more that Romney hammers employers for hiring undocumented immigrants, the more it seems likely that Perry will jab back.

The Perry campaign did not return a request for comment.