Rick Perry’s view of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” was supposed to be the red herring that would crash his poll numbers among older Americans. It did, but not dramatically. But he now has a far bigger controversy brewing over his continued view of illegal immigration and his record handling it as governor of Texas.
During his initial participation in the Republican debates, the subject of illegal immigration was covered in a light dusting. Perry was able to mumble a few familiar fallback Republican remarks such as more boots on the ground, increased border crossing agents, drone aircraft, etc. He stuck with red meat answers for that particular night’s audience.
He even threw in a little criticism of President Obama by saying, “For the president to go to El Paso, Texas and say the border is safer than it’s ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country, or he was an abject liar to the American people. It is not safe on that border.”
Those comments drew enthusiastic applause when said early in September. Now the subject has taken on a more intense posture among voters and it’s Perry taking the heat.
The first point of contention between Perry and most other fellow candidates is the building of a border fence the length of four states (TX, NM, AZ & CA). Perry opposes it. “Building a wall on the entire border is a preposterous idea,” he said recently in New Hampshire (note it is not a southwestern state). “The only thing a wall would possibly accomplish is to help the ladder business.”
The governor supports “strategic fencing in certain urban areas,” but that would be it. Remarks that fair well in moderate New Hampshire, but meet stiff resistance in states like South Carolina or Florida further down the primary calendar.
He differs with other debaters on employers taking responsibility for stopping illegals during the hiring process. That would be E-verify, a program to check legal status of any potential hire. Perry adamantly opposes this idea citing businesses aren’t border aggents or other federal authorities. “E-verify would not make a hill of beans’ difference in what’s happening today,” he insisted.
But it’s his stance on another controversial postion of illegal immigration he has taken that could be his undoing in the months to come. Again, after New Hampshire, the topic will heat up considerably in sourthern primaries.
The governor is an enthusiastic advocate of taxpayer-subsidized, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. He signed his own Texas Dream Act in 2001. His reasoning for such a bill is simply stated: “We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, “We don’t care where you came from, but where you’re going.”
Despite growing criticism in the televised debates, he maintains his position and hasn’t wavered – yet.
The backlash from his opponents smelling blood in the water centers on whether his Dream Act acts as an incentive for more illegals to enter the country. If Texas will subsidize this group of non-citizens through its taxpayers, where is the incentive to achieve legal status and citizenship come from? The word will spread far and wide that free education is cheap north of the border from the “Gringos.”
As the debates continue, Perry’s endorsement of “guest worker programs” will meet even more determined opposition. Taking illegals off the black market and legitimizing their economic contributions, without providing citizenship status, will be challenged fiercely. Perry also wants to provide a legal ID he contends will divert millions of illegals from entering the country.
Many would argue that the border is indefensible today. What will prevent criminals from creating ID forgery and black market corruption? Isn’t this in itself a legal form of amnesty?
Perry is also in the minority opinion on sanctuary cities, which he does not oppose and has been highly critical of Arizona’s immigration law. Both topics that enjoy widespread support among Republicans, on the opposite side of the governor. This is especially true in border states. Undecided voters are scratching their heads wondering how a Texan holds an identical illegal immigrant postion to the Obama administration.
One would expect this sort of view from liberals Jon Huntsman or Ron Paul, but a Texas governor?
Immigration was a sizzling hot issue among Republican voters in 2007-08. It nearly killed the candidacy of John McCain who retreated from his more liberal stances on illegal immigration as his polls declined. He became a “born-again” law and order candidate.
Perhaps the illegal immigration issue has cooled in 2011-12. Maybe the economy and unemployment have relegated the controversy to the back burner.. But it is a subject the media asks regularly at campaign stops and debates. The issue will not disappear.
As the primary season looms closer, it’s a certainty the Perry campaign will weigh their options after the New Hampshire primary as the fight heads south of the Mason-Dixon line. How he to changing opinion will play a decisive part in his success or failure next year.
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