By Trip Gabriel
Representative Michele Bachmann gave one of the great stem-winding speeches of her campaign Saturday about the burdens illegal immigration places on American taxpayers, and she signed a pledge to build a "secure double fence" along every foot of the border with Mexico.
Citing figures from two conservative groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Heritage Foundation, Mrs. Bachmann said illegal immigration cost the country $113 billion a year, with the highest costs coming from education. Stating that 50 percent of illegal immigrants who are heads of households don't have a high school diploma, she said such households receive "taxpayer-subsidized benefits" of $43,084 a year.
She gave her speech in this central Iowa community at an event the campaign billed as "Bachmann Takes it to Perry Rally,'' which she later called a tongue-in-cheek reference to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.
Mr. Perry stole much of the heat and light of Mrs. Bachmann's campaign after entering the race in August, but he lost the support of some conservatives after his policies on illegal immigration, including advocating in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, became known during recent debates.
Though Mr. Perry has fallen in polls nationally and in Iowa, Mrs. Bachmann has not been the beneficiary -- Herman Cain has. She seemed to be staking out a red-meat stance on illegal immigration to appeal to voters in Iowa, where her campaign has placed almost all its chips.
"People are very upset across Iowa about illegal immigration," she told reporters after her speech. "People have asked me about it at every stop I've gone to.''
"The governor of Texas,'' she continued, "has brought this issue up and was proud of the fact of offering in-state tuition credits to illegal aliens.''
During her speech, she told the audience, about 60 people, that the law Mr. Perry signed allowing children of undocumented families who graduated from a Texas high school to attend a state college on in-state tuition violated a 1996 federal law. "We have a kind of "don't ask, don't tell' policy in our colleges and universities," she said, adding that Texas taxpayers subsidize illegal immigrants' in-state tuition to the tune of $25.9 million annually.
Mrs. Bachmann sought to clarify that in forcefully pressing the issue of illegal immigration, she was not taking aim at Hispanics. "Can I just lay it on the line here and say, I talk to people all across Iowa, I don't hear the people of Iowa are racist or bigoted,'' she said.
It is a question of fairness, she said. She compared her own family of "honest, hard-working" Norwegian immigrants, who came to Iowa legally seven generations ago, "and with their own hands plowed the fields and felled the trees.''
"That's what we need to have again,'' she asserted to strong applause. "When they came in, they agreed they'd learn our Constitution, they'd live under the laws of Iowa and the United States, they agreed to learn English and to assimilate into their society.''
"It's high time,'' she said, "we stood up unashamedly" on this issue.