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Rick Perry on Immigration

Texas Governor Signed Version of the DREAM Act, Balked at Border Fence

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Texas Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry speaks during a forum on manufacturing November 1, 2011 at Vermeer Manufacturing in Pella, Iowa.
Steve Pope/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has drawn more criticism for his record on immigration than any other Republican candidate for president.

Most of the critics have focused on Perry’s support for the DREAM Act. In 2001, the governor signed a version of the bill into law in Texas that allowed children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition rates. Perry says he believes that Texas schools should be open to all children, regardless of immigration status, and that investing in education is good for the economy.

He defends the Texas law saying it creates “taxpaying, contributing members” of society. “Are we going to create a class of tax wasters or are we going to create taxpayers?” he said. “Texas chose the latter. Every state has the freedom to make that decision. It’s not a federal issue. I would not want it to be a federal issue. What I want to do is to be the president of the United States who secures the border so future governors don’t have to mess with that particular issue.”

Mitt Romney, one of Perry’s rivals for the Republican nomination, called the tuition break an undeserved subsidy worth as much as $100,000 to a four-year student and a “magnet” that draws illegal immigrants.

Perry has found defenders for his view in the ranks of Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, and left-of-center Republicans.

The governor infuriated some Tea Party members during a September debate when he called critics of the Texas law “heartless.” Perry later apologized and said his comment was “arrogant” and “insulting.”

A decade ago, Perry supported President George W. Bush’s plan to create a pathway to legal residency or citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the country. Perry has backed away from that stance during the campaign and said no comprehensive reform is possible until the borders are secured and the federal immigration laws enforced.

He says talking about a path to legal residency is “nothing more than an intellectual exercise” until the federal government controls its borders.

No Arizona Law for Texas

Perry also annoyed conservatives when he rejected the idea of an Arizona-style state immigration law for Texas. He said he would veto any bill modeled after Arizona’s, saying it “wouldn’t be the right direction for Texas,” a position that won him praise with the state’s large population of Latino voters.

But early in 2011, Perry angered Hispanic groups when he supported legislation to prohibit sanctuary cities in Texas and allow state and local law enforcement officers to question immigrants about their legal status. Hispanics called the move an invitation to racial profiling.

Perry also has irritated Republican conservatives and the Tea Party by balking over building a fence along the entire Texas-Mexico border. He has called the idea “idiocy” because he believes it is too costly and ineffective.

Instead, Perry would try to stop illegal border crossing with “boots on the ground” and “strategic fencing.” Perry says he spent nearly $400 million to secure the border since becoming governor, more than any of his predecessors.

According to his campaign platform, if elected president, Perry “will deploy thousands of National Guardsmen to the border until a sufficient number of border patrol agents can be hired and trained. He will order federal officials to expedite construction of strategic fencing, especially in high traffic areas where manpower alone is insufficient to do the job. And he will make greater use of unmanned aerial assets to gather reliable, real-time intelligence that law enforcement can immediately act upon.”

Perry sought help in convincing conservatives he wasn’t soft on illegal immigrants because of his support for the DREAM Act and reluctance to build a border fence. He found help from Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.

Arpaio has a national reputation for cracking down on illegal immigration. He was an ardent supporter of Arizona’s SB 1070, the controversial law that empowered state law enforcement officials to question and detain suspected undocumented immigrants. The sheriff has conducted many sweeps that have rounded up hundreds of immigrants over the years.

Arpaio, who likes to refer to himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” endorsed Perry’s candidacy for president and went on the campaign trail with him.

Perry has promised to secure the borders within 12 months of his inauguration.

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