Rick Perry has caught a lot of flak for his most recent debate performance. Although he had numerous low points, his lowest was his defense of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants:
- “If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought there through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society.”
There are at least three problems with this response – one was unavoidable, one was easily avoidable, and one was inexcusable:
- Unavoidable. The unavoidable problem was that in 2001 Perry had signed-off on a bipartisan law, but now he is faced with partisan primary voters. At the Christian Science Monitor cogently described – “For Perry, his state’s version of the Obama administration’s ‘Dream Act’ proposal for helping students without legal immigrant status has become like ‘RomneyCare’ – a state-specific position that’s hard to justify in the context of today’s national debate on such issues.”
- Avoidable. The avoidable problem was that Perry was unable to speak clearly. Perry knew that this question was coming, so he should have been able to rehearse an articulate response. Instead he gave a response with jumbled syntax.
- Inexcusable. Perry knew that many Republican voters disagreed with his position, but instead of trying to persuade them that his position was reasonable, he criticized them for not having a heart. I don’t think he read Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Perry should have known thta most conservatives are already ultra-sensitive to the charge of being uncaring because liberals have been accusing them of that for years. That’s why you would think that a conservative would never sink to that level in defending a policy position. What was Perry thinking?
Mitt Romney wasted no time in providing an effective rejoinder. The next day during a CPAC speech he said, “I think if you are opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart. It means you have a heart and a brain.”
What is the right answer? Perry’s position is consistent with the 1982 Supreme Court decision – Plyler v. Doe – that required Texas to provide K-12 schooling to illegal immigrants. The rationale for the decision was that to deny such schooling would result in “the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.” Although liberal Justice Brennan writes better than Perry speaks, they are saying the same thing.
The vast majority of Republican voters, however, disagree with Brennan and Perry. Much of the immigration talk in the debates has gravitated toward the elimination of magnets that are attracting illegal immigrants. A job is the biggest magnet, but others include education, medical care, and birthright citizenship.
Furthermore, Brennan’s decision in Plyler v. Doe was limited to K-12 education, while Perry and the Texas legislature have extended it to a college education. As noted in Wikipedia:
- “Other court cases and legislation … have allowed some states to pass statues that deny undocumented students eligibility for in-state tuition, scholarships, or even bar them from enrollment at public colleges and universities.”
Recently, while listening to the Mark Levin talk show on radio, a caller suggested to Mark that federal legislation not only allows states to deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, it requires them to deny it.
By doing some basic legal research, I was able to find the law – Public Law 104–208 – Division C – Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Section 505 is titled, “Limitation on eligibility for preferential treatment of aliens not lawfully present on basis of residence for higher education benefits.” The section reads as follows:
- “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”
The law appears clear, but the Mark Levin caller, who was a lawyer, said that several years ago a California state court had thrown out his case brought to enforce the law, but he was optimistic that a case brought today in another state would have good prospects for success.
Regardless of whether the federal law could pre-empt Texas’s version of the DREAM Act, Perry will need to do a better job in explaining his position. I suggest that, instead of calling those who disagree as heartless, he should say that the issue is a close call. He understands that the magnets and sanctuaries have to be eliminated, but that he also has to deal humanely with the young people in his state who were brought here as children. As with his inoculation decision, Perry’s concern for the kids carried the day.
That’s what I’d say.