A batch of '90s-era White House memos from Rahm Emanuel to former President Bill Clinton reveal a shrewd political mind motivated by messaging rather than ideology.
The documents, posted on the Chicago Sun-Times' site, were recently made public among the archives at Clinton's presidential library in Arkansas after 12 years of concealment.
They show the 54-year-old Chicago mayor -- a senior adviser to Clinton circa 1993-1998 -- urging the president to crack down on undocumented immigrants and take a stronger stand on combating crime as part of a strategy to appropriate GOP platforms for political gain.
In a November 1996 memo on national policy, Emanuel advised Clinton -- then starting his second term -- to add more immigration hearings across six states, Illinois included, so that he could "claim and achieve record deportations of criminal aliens."
He wrote: "The GOP Congress wants to fight the immigration issue out on government benefits. You want to take it to them on the workplace. The INS should be directed to expand the VIS to key industries, beyond meat-packers and poultry. Halfway through your term you want to claim a number of industries free of illegal immigrants."
Emanuel encouraged the president to extend National Guard presence "along the border" and halt immigrants' naturalization proceedings for one month in order to "review past files for criminal misconduct."
On crime, Emanuel was obsessive. He pressured Clinton to steal the issue from Republicans and use it to Democrats' advantage, stating, “Your working philosophy has always been to move the either/or policy debates which in the past consumed Washington. For example you have stated that criminal justice policy is not a choice between punishment or prevention but the collaborated effort of policing the streets, punishing criminals and preventing crime. In addition to being sound policy this is good politics. By incorporating the opposition’s rhetoric, you remove their policy claims."
Nearly 20 years later, Mayor Emanuel -- up for re-election next year -- continues a similar position on crime-fighting here in this notoriously violent city, where he's faced allegations of fudging homicide numbers to present a lower murder rate to the public.
As for immigration reform, he's totally flip-flopped amid louder calls throughout the country for easing the path to citizenship. In Chicago, his political future requires the support of Hispanic voters and he recently joined Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin on a 24-hunger strike to pressure Congress to pass legislation reforming the U.S. immigration system.
"Mayor Emanuel’s position has been consistent: the U.S. government must find a way to put 12 million undocumented Americans on a path to citizenship," his spokesperson, Kelley Quinn, told the Sun-Times. "He has always believed that law enforcement should not be focused on those who enter the country illegally, but on those who commit violent crimes while here."