Perry’s Immigration Strategy May Woo Hispanics

MIAMI (AP) – Rick Perry is calling his Republican rivals “heartless” and using ethnically charged language to defend moderate parts of his immigration record. That strategy may endear the Texas governor to Hispanics and their allies even as it angers others the presidential candidate must woo to win the nomination for president.

His in-your-face approach to addressing what many non-Hispanic conservatives consider a black mark on his record underscores the difficult politics at play for Perry. He’s a border-state governor who for a decade has taken great care to avoid alienating the nation’s fastest-growing minority group. Now he finds himself running for president in a Republican primary whose core supporters are staunchly opposed to illegal immigration, much like George W. Bush did when he ran for the White House.

At issue is a 2001 Texas law he supported that allows undocumented immigrant children to receive in-state tuition at Texas universities if they meet certain requirements and his insistence that a physical border fence is impractical as a way to control the flow of foreigners into the United States. Both issues became flashpoints this month in a series of debates as rivals tried to use Perry’s policies to paint him as weak on illegal immigration.

Perry defended himself by using arguments that invoke race, national origin and what it means to be American — issues that resonate strongly with Hispanics, a key voting demographic. He’s used the same pitch since the law passed, and standing by it helps insulate him from charges he’s backing away from his past positions. The arguments he makes also could easily resonate with moderate conservatives and with independents who aren’t Hispanic.

“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 last week in a debate as he countered attacks from Mitt Romney, his chief rival, and from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

In the same situation a week earlier, Perry invoked race and ethnicity to defend the law that’s become known as the Texas Dream Act, saying: “The bottom line is, it doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way.”

In both cases, many Hispanics likely found themselves nodding in agreement.

“Latinos see it as a race issue,” said David Hinojosa, the southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He said Hispanics view opposition to bills like the one Perry signed as anti-Latino stances. “It’s very fair for him to portray it as a race issue, because at the end of the day that’s what it is.”

Or, as Julio Rumbault, a media consultant based in Miami, put it, “The reality is that we have Garcias who are five generations in New Mexico and those that came over the border last week, and they are blending into the society and becoming part of our communities.”

“Perry was saying something that makes sense in principle but also makes sense in reality,” Rumbault said. “He was pointing to the American tenet of equality as a principle, and whether he meant to or not, he dealt with a reality. Garcias, whether they’re five generations or just came over the border, they’re here, and they deserve an opportunity for education.”

Perry’s position could help him attract the support of Democratic-leaning Hispanics in key general election swing states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado. Perry points to his appeal among Hispanics in private meetings with donors when they ask how the plain-spoken conservative is going to win the broad base of voters he’ll need to beat President Barack Obama in 2012. He wouldn’t need a majority of Hispanic voters to win — just enough to chip away at the overwhelming majority Obama won in 2008.

First, however, Perry must get through the GOP primary and convince an angry Republican base not to reject him outright for immigration positions many view as heresy. Even though the issue takes a backseat nationally to the struggling economy, it consistently pops up in early voting Iowa and South Carolina, as voters press GOP candidates on whether they’re staunch enough against illegal immigration.

Romney and Bachmann both frequently castigate the Texas bill as helping “illegal aliens.” Romney allies note that he vetoed a similar in-state tuition bill when he served as governor of Massachusetts, and Bachmann often reminds voters that she backs the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

If the blowback from Perry’s “have a heart” comment is any indication, he has his work cut out for him.

Bachmann used the phrase to slam Perry in an email to supporters, writing, “If you oppose illegal immigration and don’t believe illegal immigrants should be given taxpayer subsidized tuition benefits … according to Rick Perry you don’t have a heart.”

And a statement from the campaign arm of Americans for Legal Immigration said, “Rick Perry is finished.” The group says it backs people who legally immigrate but opposes amnesty, visa expansion or guest worker programs “designed to reward illegal aliens or legalize their presence” in the United States.

Perry aides brush off the criticism.

They say Perry’s talking about illegal immigration in the same way he always has and isn’t catering to any one constituency or looking to provoke anyone by suggesting his rivals are heartless or invoking ethnicity. They say he is who he is and he says what he thinks. They say he’s being consistent in how he talks about illegal immigration and his policies.

“He’s always explained it that way,” Perry’s top strategist, David Carney, said. “And we have no strategy based on appealing to different groups or different people or primary voters.”

The rationale aides provide speaks to a broader political imperative for Perry — defining himself as the straightest-talking, most authentic conservative in the race.

Even so, when it comes to federal immigration issues, Perry hasn’t shied away from parroting the standard conservative line.

He opposes the federal version of the tuition law, which Hispanic groups have pushed hard for and which also includes a path to citizenship for students. And during the debate, his staff emailed a news release to reporters that sounded a lot like all the other GOP candidates: “Gov. Perry opposes amnesty and the federal DREAM Act. Washington must first secure the border before we can have any rational discussion about immigration reform. Once that is accomplished, then we can have a conversation about how to address immigration.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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  • Rod

    perry will say and do anything to get a vote.He could care less about the hispanics.If he did he would care about the school system which he does not.Hispanics have the highest drop out rate so why would he worry about them going to collage in droves.He only passed the in state tuition bill to get their vote while running for gov.He nothing but a 2 bit phony.

    • altha

      So truth.

  • DDT

    He is NOT getting my vote. If us conservatives can’t nominate a REAL candidate this time, and we have a repeat of that silly McCain/Palin ticket, I will sit this one out.

    • DDT

      I meant a repeat LIKE the McCain/Palin ticket. God forbid the McCain/Palin ticket literally repeats itself.

  • rubbercow

    I think Mr. Hinojosa is right; Hispanics apparently see this as a race issue. Unfortunately, they are the ones being overtly racist by demanding that members of their race be held above the law by virtue of ethnicity. I can’t think of a more clear-cut example of racism.

    • Dr. Sarcasm

      WHOA! Be careful! REVERSE racism is NOT racism! See, us whiteys are guilty of oppression, slavery, genocide… and WE are the racists. We OWE them, don’t you see? Sure, we’re talking about many generations prior, but somehow, us present-day whiteys are somehow guilty of SOMETHING, right? Nobody is racist except for WHITES.

      • altha

        That is a truth statment.

  • Dave Francis


    Contrary to what the open borders and special interest organization say, Mandatory E-Verify is an incredibly urgent deterrent for the American job marketplace, in opposition to the illegal immigration invaders. This federal enforcement program will detect illegal aliens in the workplace, will be very potent verification process of those who being hired and lawfully here. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas sponsored nationwide E-Verify to hold businesses accountable, for the 8.5 Million already working amongst us. Rep. Lamar Smith’s mandated E-Verify bill H.R. 2885, known as the “Legal Workforce Act” Is now ready for Congress. The American people deserve a President that upholds our laws, instead of bypassing Congress with Executive directives. He must be prepared to protect America from its internal enemies, and sustain the 1986 Immigration laws against all entities who are pushing for wide open borders and allowing uncountable amounts of poverty-stricken–ECONOMIC–people to enter this sovereign nation.

    President Obama said today he cannot pass Immigration Reform on his own; it’s truly a bipartisan effort. When you disrespect our immigration laws and then come here and protest for civil right, they are just making the law abiding populace furious—angry with the no—intentional commitment of politicians to serve the public. Instead they have brought and sold America for campaign contributions. We are a sickening country with the loss of jobs, a staggering economy and a hell of a defense bill in other countries, and hundreds of billions of dollars in supporting illegal aliens.

    E-Verify will spell-out to illegal aliens from every area of our world; the welcome doormat has been withdrawn as we cannot afford them anymore. Highly skillful immigrants should be expedited through the system, but others who are predisposed to become public taxpayer charges must be turned away. The millions of non-lawful immigrants will recognize they cannot enter America with impunity and that if they cannot get hired, then why smuggle their families and children here who predominantly are uninsured and have no means of financial support. These individuals use our own laws against us to wreak havoc with our limited emergency health care service or clog our schools with their children, that don’t speak English in the majority of cases. In the last few decades they have been fortunate to find criminal companies to employ them, but when E-verify is enacted finding a job won’t be so easy.


    Agents are very courteous and are in attendance to listen to your observations you have noted. They need no personal information other than a report, so they can make a determination on a thoroughly investigating any episode. So instead of complaining on a blog, contact ICE and make your voices known, to make a disparity in this migration and immigration crisis. Therefore–over the years many will leave–part of the 20 million plus illegal aliens previously homesteaded here, will remain in enforcement purgatory. If you want more truthful information it’s predicated at NumbersUSA, Judicial Watch and American Patrol, who provide insight reporting. The free cornucopia for foreign nationals will be over, and we can start, including the foothold citizen babies; we supplement 300.000 these pregnant mothers annually with welfare and public assistance programs–that even US families cannot get for free, including subsidized housing.

    THIS GOES BEYOND INCOMPREHENSIBLE, when American citizens and lawful residents are not eligible and yet taxpayers forfeited money to pay for illegal alien public services. With a reduction of these illegal children and babies, billions of dollars can go to our warriors, our old folk and homeless, not to criminal aliens. Illegal Immigration have been in the ball court of the special interest entities for years, but voters can bring this to an end in the 2012 elections. A President influenced by the TEA PARTY such as Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann or any straight talker who will contain the spread of big government, dump the current Tax Code and begin anew. America has become a nation of government regulation; not just federal, but State, county and local, so how can any person be expected to create a new business when burdened down with layers of laws.

    The propagating TEA PARTY will enforce the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform act and not dismantle it. Amnesty will not be passed or any form of Immigration reform and Sanctuary Cities will become a thing of the past, that will stop Mayors and Police Chiefs from catering to foreign nationals. GOP Politician Rick Perry a contender for the presidency has shown his Democratic tendencies, by giving illegal aliens academic in-state tuition. This would be a forerunner of his future intentions in the White house, of being soft to criminal entry.


    Just today US District judge Blackburn in Alabama also upheld provisions that require schools to check the immigration status of students, nullify contracts signed by illegal aliens, and makes it a felony for illegal aliens to apply for a license plate, driver’s license, or business license. Unlike rulings made by a federal district court and circuit court of appeals on Arizona’s SB1070, Judge Blackburn upheld the provision that allows police officers to ask for proof of legal status during routine police stops.

    Blackburn’s order temporarily blocked four parts of the law until she can issue a final ruling. Those measures would:
    •Make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work.
    •Make it a crime to transport or harbor an illegal immigrant.
    •Allow discrimination lawsuits against companies that dismiss Citizens and legal residents while hiring illegal immigrants.
    •Forbid companies from taking tax deductions for wages paid to workers who are in the country illegally.
    This is a patriotic chance to help your fellow jobless countryman by Calling House and Senate Leadership NOW Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121

  • Please Don't Make The Rest of Us TEA Party Peeps Look Like Idiots

    Jesus Christ, Dave, the last part of your rant would have sufficed. I want my Wednesday back!

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