AUSTIN, Texas — At an event today at the University of Texas Austin campus, Texas Governor Rick Perry reaffirmed his support of allowing illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities, while U.S. citizens from other states continue to pay higher out-of-state tuition rates. Perry made his remarks in a “One-on-One Conversation” with Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith at the Texas Tribune Festival, an annual event organized by the online media outlet. Breitbart Texas made several queries to Governor Perry’s press office for comment, but as of press time, had not received a reply.
A UT student asked Perry a question inspired by a Tribune Festival panel from the previous day titled “What to do with DREAMers,” referring to the children who were brought here by their parents without legal immigration status and want to attend public state universities. The student mentioned that Perry had signed a law granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and asked if he was still in support of that law, and also asked why Republicans had moved away from supporting this issue.
The law in question, HB 1403, was signed into law by Perry on June 16, 2001 and allows undocumented immigrant students who have lived in Texas at least three years and have a Texas high school diploma or GED equivalent to qualify for in-state tuition if they sign an affidavit that they intend to apply for permanent residency status as soon as they can.
HB 1403 passed by a substantial majority vote in both chambers of the Texas legislature with only four dissenting votes, but has been criticized since then as being one of the “magnets” that encourages people to enter the United States illegally. Perry defended the law six years later in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, and has repeated his support several times since then.
As Smith reminded Perry, his support of the law was a contentious issue in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum being among those who attacked him for it. At a debate in Orlando in September 2011, Perry hit back at the law’s detractors, infamously saying, “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. We need to be educating these children because they will become a drag on our society…This was a state issue. Texas voted on it. And I still support it today.” The audience booed Perry in response.
Perry told Smith that “it was probably a poor use of the term” regarding calling his opponents “heartless,” but then did reaffirm his support of the law once again. Smith asked directly, “have you moved to believe this should be overturned?” and Perry replied, “No.”
“[U]ntil someone comes up with a better solution to this issue…what we have to remember is the reason we had to address this as a state, was because the federal government’s total and abject failure of securing our border with Mexico,” said Perry. “We don’t have the luxury of doing anything other than addressing this.”
Perry continued, “In 2001, members of the legislature, they debated it, they talked about it…and the option they chose was in the best economic interest of the state of Texas, in that young people who are here, by no fault of their own…to give these young people the opportunity to be givers rather than takers, to be a constructive part of this society, and that’s what did.”
Perry remarked that the Texas Legislature “can have that conversation” again if they wish, and repeal the bill. Smith pressed on, asking Perry to clarify, if he does run for President in 2016, he may choose his words differently, but would still support the law. “Yes, for the state of Texas,” said Perry. “I wouldn’t say that they are heartless, I would say I hope I can explain why economically in 2001 this was the right thing for the state of Texas to do. I still think in 2001 it was the right thing to do in the state of Texas.”
Watch Perry’s remarks here (the section regarding in-state tuition begins at the 51:44 mark):
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