By John Hawkins
Texas is an agriculture-friendly border state, and its population is roughly 37% Hispanic. In a state like that, where the Texas version of the DREAM Act was genuinely popular on both sides of the aisle, you can't realistically expect a governor to compile an ideologically pure record on illegal immigration.
So with that in mind, the real question becomes what can we expect from Rick Perry on the issue if he becomes President? That question had yet to be answered -- until today. I was pleased to get an opportunity to do an in-depth written interview with Rick Perry that covers his position on illegal immigration. If you're wondering where Rick Perry stands, after reading this interview, you will know.
1. You supported the Texas version of the DREAM ACT which incidentally, was very popular in your state. It passed 27-3 in the Senate and 130-2 in the House. However, you would not support the DREAM ACT nationally if you became President of the United States. Why is that?
The federal DREAM Act is an amnesty bill, and I strongly oppose amnesty. The Texas educational residency bill was vastly different.
Because the federal government has failed in its basic duty to protect our borders, states are forced to deal with illegal immigrant issues.
In Texas, we had to deal with the children of illegal immigrants residing in our state and attending our schools, as the federal government requires states to educate these children through the public school system. Lawmakers in Texas -- indisputably one of the most conservative states in America -- were virtually unanimous in their decision.
The Legislature determined the payment of in-state college tuition is available to all students who have lived in Texas for at least three years and graduated from a public high school. If you meet those requirements, you pay in-state tuition, whether you relocated from Oklahoma, Idaho, Canada or Mexico. The only difference is that Texas residents who aren't documented must be on the path to pursue U.S. citizenship to be allowed to pay in-state tuition.
There were a number of reasons the bill received widespread support among conservatives. Importantly, it has never had a cost to Texas taxpayers. In fact, our institutions of higher learning would actually lose tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition payments if the law were repealed.
And it would lower the odds that these students would receive subsidized health care or end up in prison. Protecting taxpayers was a serious concern, given that a Supreme Court decree already requires taxpayers to pay for K-12 education for undocumented students.
2. In the last debate, you said, "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." A lot of conservatives oppose the DREAM ACT nationally because they believe it incentivizes illegal aliens to bring their children to this country and they felt that was a slap at them. Can you further clarify what you meant by that comment?
I too oppose the federal DREAM Act and will oppose it as President. Because the federal government has failed to secure the border, states have had to act. In Texas we have sent Texas Rangers to the border, spent hundreds of millions to fight border crime, outlawed driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and passed Voter ID. On the issue of all Texas residents paying in-state tuition, I regret the comment from the debate. It was a poor choice of words, and it wasn't fair to those who disagree with the policy.
3. Now you worked to outlaw sanctuary cities in Texas. Tell us why that is.
I called for abolishing sanctuary cities in my last State of the State address, and made it an emergency item for the Legislature. I'm a firm believer in giving law enforcement the discretion they need to do their job. Sanctuary city policies handcuff law enforcement officers in order to further a political agenda.
4. You signed a bill preventing illegal immigrants from receiving drivers' licenses. Why did you do that?
I signed that bill because getting a driver's license is a privilege, not a right. It just doesn't make sense to me to extend that privilege to individuals who are here illegally.
Additionally, I vetoed a bill that would have allowed the use of a matricula consular, which is an ID card used by the Mexican government, to get a driver's license in Texas.
Driver's licenses are used for a host of activities besides driving, like making financial transactions, boarding airplanes, renting vehicles and proving your identity to government authorities. The Department of Homeland Security has expressed concern that the matricula consular is particularly susceptible to fraud, which means you can't rely on it to prove someone's identity. So if you allow someone to use it to get a driver's license, you've got some pretty serious homeland security implications.
5. Now, you came out against Arizona's illegal immigration law, SB 1070 -- although, in your defense, you signed on to support the law when the Obama Administration sued Arizona. Do you think the Obama Administration was right to sue Arizona over its immigration law?
I support the right of each state to come up with its own plan to address the federal government's failure on border security and illegal immigration.
The federal government has failed to secure the border, and states are left fending for themselves. States have every right under the 10th Amendment to pass laws and make decisions for themselves. That's why Texas supported Arizona when the Obama Administration sued to overturn Arizona law.
If Washington politicians don't like the way state leaders are cleaning up their mess, they should quit complaining and pick up a broom. If they just did their job securing the border in the first place, states wouldn't be forced to develop with their own policies.
In Texas, our efforts have focused on stopping the illegal flow of narcotics and people before they cross the border, rather than once they get here. It's the philosophy that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
We've spent about $400 million of our state tax dollars to put more boots on the ground, more helicopters in the sky and better intelligence in the hands of law enforcement.
And we've seen real results. Our surge in manpower has created major disruptions for the drug cartels and human smuggling rings. We've seized millions of pounds of drugs, taken 3,500 illegal weapons off the street and made America safer.
Securing the border and enforcing immigration laws are the federal government's constitutional responsibility, and it's time for Washington to do its job.
In the meantime, I respect the right of all states to develop their own solutions, whether they use the Texas model or the Arizona model. I applaud my fellow governors who are showing leadership on this issue, because President Obama certainly has not.
6. You've talked a lot about cutting spending, but do you think we should be willing to spend more money to increase the number of border patrol agents and ICE agents doing interior enforcement?
Absolutely. Border security is a federal responsibility. Our greatest need is more boots on the ground, and America needs a president who will stop talking about securing the border and finally do it.
In Texas, we found a way to commit $400 million to border security in recent years, even when we faced tough budgets. In Washington, it's not a question of means; it's a question of will.
I have no doubt we can find the funds necessary to increase manpower, technology and fencing on the border. In fact, cutting bureaucracy at the EPA would probably be a great place to start.
We just need a leader who will set the right priorities. I made it happen in Texas and I'll do it again if I'm president.
7. During the debate, Rick Santorum said the following, "[Rick Perry] gave a speech in 2001 where he talked about bi-national health insurance between Mexico and Texas! I mean, I don't even think Barack Obama would be for bi-national health insurance! So, I think he's very weak on this issue of American sovereignty." Looking at the issue in more detail, it doesn't look like you were actually proposing joint American/Mexican national health insurance, so much as deregulation that would allow private insurers, if they wished, to cover people on both sides of the border. Can you talk about what you were driving at with that proposal?
In Texas, we are always looking for innovative ways to improve the delivery and cost of healthcare. Texas reviewed the issue, but never pursued it. This was back in 2001 and you're exactly right that it was about freeing up consumers and private insurers from government regulation.
The idea was similar to allowing states to enter into compacts or allowing health insurance products to be sold across state lines. I think what I mentioned in that 2001 speech was that the legislature was conducting a "feasibility study." Turns out it wasn't feasible to implement, so nothing ever came of it.
But I'm glad we weren't afraid to take a look at the idea, and let it stand or fall on its own merits. I think people are tired of stereotypical politicians who sit around worrying about what opponents are going to criticize in the next election. They're always the first ones to abandon their principles.
In any case, I do agree that President Obama probably wouldn't have been too keen on the idea of empowering healthcare consumers to make better health and economic decisions for themselves.
8. Obviously you don't build a fence across every square inch of the border or you'll be going across roads or blocking farmers from being able to get to water in some places. That's an issue you've brought up a lot and it makes sense although you've also explicitly said that you support strategic fencing in certain areas. That being said, Congress has already passed a bill to build a border fence for 854 miles across the border. In fact, it was supposed to be completed in 2009, but we're still not making any significant progress on it under the Obama Administration. If Rick Perry becomes President of the United States, would that fence on the border be completed in your first term?
I have long been a proponent of strategic fencing because it is a critical component of border security, and it works when used in the right places.
I think what caused the hang up was that after it was passed, it was amended to give Homeland Security complete discretion on how, when and whether the fence ever gets built. Obviously with this president, that means it will never be completed.
If I'm elected, I will direct my Secretary of Homeland Security to expedite construction of strategic fencing along the border, especially in high traffic areas where manpower alone is insufficient to do the job.
But it's important to remember that fencing is only one component of an overall border security strategy. A fence is only as secure as it is manned.
That's why I would increase manpower on the border, starting with thousands of National Guard and border patrol agents, and I'd also make greater use of unmanned aerial vehicles to help gather real-time law enforcement intelligence.
We know for a fact that increased manpower is effective, because we've proved it in Texas with our $400 million border security effort.
9. You've been very critical of E-Verify, the limited system the government is using to verify Social Security numbers of employees. Admittedly, E-verify has been poorly run by the government, but without some kind of system in place to keep employers from unwittingly hiring illegals, it is not possible to fix our illegal immigration problem. So, would you like to get rid of E-Verify and if so, what would you replace it with?
I agree that some kind of electronic verification system is needed so we can make sure employers comply with the law not to hire illegal immigrants. E-Verify is a federal government created and run program, and as a result there have been a number of problems with it so far. The Department of Homeland Security estimated the system could fail to identify more than half of all illegal immigrants.
But just because it has problems doesn't mean we should throw employee verification out. It means we should make it work. Employee verification needs to be accurate so American citizens aren't denied jobs based on bad data and undocumented immigrants don't slip through the system. And it needs to be less cumbersome for employers to use, so it's not costing them money they could be using to create jobs.
So as president, I'd work to put in place an E-Verify system that's more accurate, less burdensome and really delivers the results we need it to.
10. Most Democrats and even some Republicans favor comprehensive immigration reform with the idea being that we would create a path to citizenship for illegal aliens while we put new security measures into place at the same time. The fear many people have is that we'd get the citizenship for illegal aliens, but the security measures would be slow-walked or never put into place at all. Would you support comprehensive immigration reform or do you believe we need to insist on a "security first" position, which means that we secure the border and put some kind of system in place to keep illegal aliens from working before we start discussing what would happen with illegal aliens that are already here?
The debate on immigration reform is meaningless until the federal government secures the border. There's just no point in passing new immigration laws when we can't even enforce the ones we've got. Once our borders are secure and we've fixed the problem with visa "overstays," then we can seriously address our broken immigration system. But step one is to secure that border so we have the ability to enforce the law.