- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2011

ORLANDO, Fla. — Rick Perry went out on a limb Thursday by refusing to back off his support as Texas governor for granting in-state tuition to some of the children of illegal immigrants, and painting critics of the law as heartless — remarks that landed him in the cross hairs of his GOP rivals.

The three-term Texas governor said he still supports the program “greatly” and that the Lone Star State needs “to be educating these children because otherwise they’ll “become a drag on society.”

“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Mr. Perry said.

The stance also put Mr. Perry at odds with a chunk of the audience, which booed, and opened him up to attacks from the Republican field, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said the law carries an annual price tag of $22,000 per student and acts as a magnet for illegal immigrants.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (right) listens as Texas Gov. Rick Perry makes a statement during a Republican presidential candidate debate on Sept. 22, 2011, in Orlando, Fla. (Associated Press)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (right) listens as Texas Gov. Rick Perry ... more >

“If you’re a United States citizen from any one of the other 49 states, you have to pay $100,000 more,” Mr. Romney said, alluding to the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at the University of Texas over four years. “That doesn’t make sense to me. That kind of magnet draws people into this country to get that education, to get the $100,000 break. It makes no sense.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania piled on the criticism and called Mr. Perry “soft on illegal immigration” and alluded to a Perry speech from 2001 at which the Texan extolled the virtue of studying a “binational health insurance” program between border areas of Texas and Mexico.

“I don’t even think Barack Obama would be for binational health insurance,” the former Pennsylvania Senator quipped, sparking laughter from the audience. “So I think he’s very weak on this issue of American sovereignty and protecting our borders and not being a magnet for illegal immigration.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota also said it was time to end “the magnet” of U.S. health and education benefits, which she said attracts illegal immigrants.

The dust-up over illegal immigration came toward the tail end of the debate here at the sprawling Orange Country Convention Center, where the candidates generally agreed over the notion of defeating Mr. Obama in the 2012 election and over devolving federal powers to the states, including such whole agencies as the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.

During the two-hour affair, the contenders fielded various questions over health care, the economy and foreign policy — and each each of them appeared to score points with the audience along the way.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is running third in many national polls, vowed to veto every single bill that violates the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.

“Government is too big in Washington, D.C.,” the 12-term Texas Representative said. “It’s runaway. We have no controls of the spending, taxes, regulations, no control on the Federal Reserve printing money.”

Mrs. Bachmann promised to repeal ‘Obamacare’ and continued to attack the executive order Mr. Perry signed in 2007 that mandated that young girls be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV virus, which is known to cause cervical cancer.

Defending himself, Mr. Perry stumbled over his history with a woman who later died of cervical cancer, identified later as 31-year-old Heather Burchman.

Story Continues →