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Rick Perry's kinder, gentler view on illegal immigrants: Will it cost him?

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Defending his decision, Perry said the law sends “a message to young people that, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. We are going to allow you to be a contributing members of the state of Texas and not be a drain on the system.”

Perry’s stance toward immigrants is similar to that of George W. Bush, another Texas governor and presidential aspirant who likewise was attacked for his moderate solutions to immigration reform, such as guest worker programs. Mr. Bush endured the attacks and won the presidency, but Perry, who polls show is the current front-runner, may face a more difficult time.

“What changed [since then] is [that] the base of the Republican Party is much more concerned about unauthorized immigration,” says Louis DeSipio, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine. “Where Bush was able to distinguish himself as a new type of Republican, a ‘compassionate conservative,’ it’s not going to be so easy for Governor Perry this year.”

Perry finds himself in the unusual situation of sharing common ground with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who is poised to sign a bill that expands his state’s tuition law for illegal immigrant students by allowing them to apply for publicly funded financial aid. The California Assembly voted Friday to send the governor the bill, a companion to a bill Brown signed in July that allows illegal immigrant students access to privately funded college aid.

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