ThinkProgress filed this report from a town hall in Hampton, New Hampshire.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) presidential campaign has been dogged for the past two weeks over allegations that his administration has been insufficiently cruel to undocumented immigrants. As governor, Perry signed into law a bill that allowed children of undocumented immigrants in Texas to pay in-state tuition at state universities. His presidential rivals slammed Perry’s decision, and GOP primary voters have followed suit, leading to a precipitous drop in the polls for Perry.
In response, Perry’s adopted the garbled position of defending his past humanity toward undocumented immigrants while simultaneously trying to demonstrate to Republican primary voters that he, too, wants to ensure that undocumented immigrants have as few rights as possible. Perry recently noted that he supported Arizona’s right to pass its draconian immigration law (a move Perry opposed last year), opposed driver’s licenses for undocumented migrants, and even advocated sending American troops into Mexico to fight the drug war.
Perry went further on Saturday, however. Discussing immigration with a constituent in Hampton, Perry returned to his signature tactic — blaming his state’s insufficiently harsh immigration policies on the feds:
We have for decades had a federal government that has absolutely failed in its constitutional duty to defend our borders. That is why Arizona has had to pass laws that it passed, and I supported their right to do that when the federal government sued them. I’m a governor, I don’t have the pleasure of standing on the stage and criticizing. I have to deal with these issues. I have to deal with real time, real issues. The federal government forces us to give health care to individuals in our state, regardless of their legal status. The federal government forces us to school young men and women, regardless of their immigration status.
Despite Perry’s assertion to the contrary, it’s not the “federal government” that forces Texas to give undocumented children an education, it’s the Constitution. Moreover, undocumented immigrants enjoy only minimal access to health care under federal law. They are generally ineligible for Medicaid or CHIP — although they can thank Ronald Reagan for signing the federal law that requires emergency rooms to stabilize all patients regardless of legal status.
Strangely, Perry’s complaint about being “forced” to give young children an education and give sick people health care, “regardless of their immigration status,” preceded a thoughtful, progressive argument in favor of giving in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Given Perry’s verbal contortions on the issue of immigration, the question remains: is Perry the governor with tolerance and compassion for undocumented immigrants (and especially their children), or is Perry the presidential candidate who complains about being forced them give health care and primary education? Will the real Rick Perry please stand up?