Giuliani is pulling a Romney on immigration, pure and simple. The technology argument is the equivalent of Romney becoming pro-life in response to Dr. Melton using the word “destroy” in his presence. The facts on the border simply haven’t changed that much due to technological innovations over the last 11 years; neither have the economic costs of enforcement versus non-enforcement. (And he was right in 1996 that you can’t totally control immigration; that remains true today.) The biggest difference is the constituency Giuliani is trying to appeal to.
Even reading a longer transcript of the speech, Giuliani’s throw-away lines about illegal immigration are clearly of a piece with his comments about “hating” abortion. He is throwing people who disagree with him a bone while telling them tough luck. Giuliani devotes more space to attacking the “anti-immigrant” movement than he does to the problems created by illegal immigration.
And pace Peter King, Giuliani did not just make due with an already bad illegal-immigrant situation in New York City in the interest of public safety, though certainly some of his actions can be justified on those grounds. Giuliani gave speeches declaring that illegal immigrants were welcome in New York City and likening those who wished to curb illegal immigration to Know Nothings. Maybe he didn’t push the city council to adopt a Cambridge-like resolution declaring New York a sanctuary city; maybe he didn’t send out engraved invitations. But he took affirmative steps to ensure that New York City was in effect a sanctuary city under his watch.
If Giuliani had cited 9/11 as the reason for his shift, I might be more inclined to believe him (though the 9/11 hijackers came in through our failure to properly enforce visas rather than our failure to protect the borders). But Giuliani is relying on his (deserved) image as a tough guy to give him credibility on immigration enforcement that isn’t justified by his record. It will probably work.