**Updated with response from Gov. Perry’s Office
In the midst of a number of conservatives believing Governor Rick Perry, Texas Republican, is the GOP’s answer to taking on President Barack Obama, squishy aspects of Mr. Perry’s background are being overlooked. As a border state governor, Mr. Perry signed state immigration law in 2001 known as the Texas DREAM Act. Here is an excerpt from a speech Governor Perry gave during the border summit in August of 2001: (bolding is mine)
As a compassionate state, we know that for our children to succeed, they must not only be healthy, but educated. The future leaders of our two nations are learning their fractions and their ABC’s in classrooms all along this border. Immigrants from around the world are being taught in Texas classrooms, and our history is rich with examples of new citizens who have made great contributions. We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, “we don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.” And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers. That’s why Texas took the national lead in allowing such deserving young minds to attend a Texas college at a resident rate. Those young minds are a part of a new generation of leaders, the doors of higher education must be open to them. The message is simple: educacion es el futuro, y si se puede.
Sound familiar? It should. For those political observers who may not pay too much attention to Texas politics but watch their representatives on Capitol Hill, they may remember that Democrats in the Senate have tried repeatedly and failed to pass the DREAM Act and even after the House passed the legislation in late 2010 during the lame duck session before the Republicans took the majority, Senate Democrats did not find the numbers to overcome a likely filibuster.
House Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the bill (216 to 198), and more Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against the legislation (38) than there were Republicans (8) who voted for it.
If Mr. Perry is serious about 2012, he either believes he can convince Republicans to do a complete 180 on illegal immigration in a way that former President George W. Bush could not or Governor Perry thinks the DREAM Act he signed is completely different than what was being argued about on Capitol Hill these past few years.
Perry’s press office responded to my inquiry on Tuesday about where he stands on both the Texas version of the Dream Act and the current federal version:
“We need to, as a country, address border security before we tackle any immigration issues. Absolutely, immigration issues need to be addressed but before you can do that you have to go to the root of the issue which is ultimately border security. Until you secure that border, you’ve got a porous border where it’s almost pointless to address immigration reform. We can have a conversation, but until it can be implemented effectively we need to address border security and both of those responsibilities lie with the federal government.”
On the federal level, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act) is controversial immigration legislation that would facilitate possible legal status to younger illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children and now want to join the military or attend college.
In a 2010 pro-DREAM Act op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, the writer, Texas State Senator Democrat Rodney Ellis, references and applauds Governor Perry’s 2001 signing of the Texas Dream Act:
The quality of Texas’ future will be determined by our state’s ability to educate the next generation of students. Fortunately, Texas has enacted important legislation that recognizes the contributions of all students. It’s now time for Congress to follow suit.
In 2001, Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law after the bill passed the Senate with zero no votes. House Bill 1403 by former Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, now called the Texas Dream Act, has proven to be an incredibly successful law providing access to higher education for students who may otherwise be unable to afford the increasing cost of attending college. Texas law currently provides that all students, regardless of immigration status, may qualify for in-state tuition at Texas colleges or universities provided they have lived in Texas the three years leading up to high school graduation and resided in Texas the year prior to their enrollment in higher education.
The Texas Dream Act thus recognizes that immigrant students who have been educated in our Texas public schools have strong family, community and economic ties to the U.S. The state then follows through on the investment taxpayers have made in their education by allowing them to pay the same tuition rate as other Texans who meet the residency timeline requirements. These students have been admitted to colleges and universities based on their merit and despite the many obstacles with which they are confronted — a principle every Texan can appreciate. The law is both successful and popular because it reduces dropouts, encourages access to college and comes at little expense to the state.
Like many states, Texas faces a huge budget crisis and according to the Austin Stateman last week, GOP legislators “didn’t budge this session from their commitment to reduce Texas’ education spending even in the face of protests, negative ad campaigns and reams of criticism.”
However, since Governor Perry signed the Texas DREAM Act into law ten years ago, The Dallas Morning News reported in March of 2010 that, “the number of illegal immigrant college students paying in-state tuition and receiving financial aid at Texas’ public colleges and universities continues to climb, according to state higher education records.” The article goes further: (bolding is mine)
During the fall semester, 12,138 students - about 1 percent of all Texas college students - benefited from the state law granting in-state tuition, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Most of the immigrants among those students are illegal, and some others are not legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
Texas awarded about $33.6 million in state and institutional financial aid to those students between fall 2004 and summer 2008.
In 2001, Texas became the first state in the country to pass an in-state tuition law. The law created a national movement. Many private universities also now award aid to illegal immigrant students.
Now some of the students are graduating but unable to work legally as professionals. Julie, 29, who moved from Mexico to Austin at age 12, earned a degree in nursing from the University of Texas. She is unable to work, so instead she volunteers in Dallas.
Groups cited by conservatives and those Republicans who want to see tighter border security like FAIR and NumbersUSA are critical of such immigration bills, and Governor Perry will have much explaining to do about his stance on the DREAM Act. The Daily Caller reported in May that Governor Perry “opposes Obama’s ‘amnesty’ plan, including the more limited DREAM Act,” but little has been reported on regarding where the governor stands today on the Dream Act and sooner or later, if he is to be taken seriously as a 2012 presidential candidate, primary voters will want to have more answers.