Facing heat for his positions on illegal immigration, Rick Perry walked back last week’s statement at a Republican presidential debate that people who oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants have “no heart.”
“I probably choose a poor word to explain that. For people who don’t want their state to be giving tuition to illegal aliens, illegal immigrants in this country, that’s their call, and I respect that,” Perry said in an interview with Newsmax. “I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word, and it was inappropriate.”
At last week’s debate, Perry voiced his support for a bill passed in 2001 that provides illegal immigrants who have lived in Texas for three years with access to in-state tuition rates at public universities. The Texas governor went as far as suggesting that people who opposed such initiatives have “no heart.”
“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said at the debate. “We need to be educating these children because they will become a drag on our society.”
Perry, who opposes the federal DREAM Act, expressed his stance that matters such as providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants should be left to the states and that the federal government needs to enhance border security.
“It is a state’s sovereign right to decide that issue for themselves. In Texas in 2001, we had 181 members of the legislature. Only four voted against this piece of legislation because it wasn’t about immigration. It was about education,” Perry said. “The bigger issue is that the federal government has failed in its constitutional duty to secure our borders.”
Perry, who is against building a fence spanning the border of Texas and Mexico, touted Texas’ efforts to ban sanctuary cities, though the policy failed to pass in the Texas legislature this summer. He also referred to the institution of a voter ID law.
“Nobody has dealt with this issues more than I have,” he said. “Texas governor, a border governor, you have to deal with these issues. You can’t just talk about it and say, ‘Oh, let’s build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and that will take care of it.’ We have to live with reality.”
Perry’s rivals have tried to capitalize on his support of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Mitt Romney attacked him the next day, saying opposing such initiatives means you “have a heart and a brain.” Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has recently fueled speculation about a potential presidential bid, chimed in on the issue Tuesday night.
“I want every child who comes to New Jersey to be educated, but I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing, with taxpayer money through in-state tuition, their education,” Christie said. “And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position. That is a common sense position.”