Perry's Very Limited Immigration Moderation

Texas Governor Rick Perry defines what now counts as being "moderate" on immigration policy in the Republican Party--making it so that only those undocumented immigrants willing to serve in the military would be eligible for citizenship.

"I think there is a path to citizenship for those young men and women who have served their country," Perry said in response to a question from NachoFiesta blogger Sean Quinn. "That is a very unique set of individuals, and different than folks who have come here illegally and not given back in that particular way."

But on other controversial immigration laws, Perry said the states should be able to do what they wish.

"I am a big believer in the 10th Amendment," Perry said. He said "state by state, they need to make those decisions" about charging illegal immigrants in-state college tuition prices (as Perry has advocated in Texas) or passing laws like Arizona's SB 1070.

Perry's reasoning here is odd. The DREAM Act, originally a Republican proposal, extended a path to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants who were poised to go to college or join the military, but the moral argument wasn't just about what those immigrants could contribute, but also because it applied to people brought here by their parents. They had no choice in the matter, so punishing them for being here illegally is wrong. Moreover, undocumented immigrants do contribute in the form of taxes for services and benefits they're ultimately ineligible for. College-educated immigrants are uniquely positioned to "give back" not just in as workers, but in income tax contributions. If the DREAM Act had passed, the CBO estimated it would have cut the deficit by a billion dollars. Perry's limited approach would prevent a large number of undocumented immigrants from "giving back." Perry passed a state-level version of the DREAM Act as governor, so he's familiar with all these arguments but he's running for the nomination of a party that virulently opposes any non-restrictionist immigration policy. 

Meanwhile, there are other questions about Perry's military service-only approach. The Obama administration's memo on discretion in deportations urges lenience on the spouses of those who serve. Republicans in Congress want to curtail all discretion so that these people are viewed no differently from those with criminal records. If Perry believes those who can serve deserve a path to citizenship, would he nevertheless deport their family members?

As to the politics of this, well, remember that John McCain had about as moderate a record on immigration as a Republican can have. Obama still walked away with the vast majority of Hispanic votes, because those voters understood that moderate McCain was an outlier in a party of restrictionists. The far less moderate Perry isn't likely to play much better on the issue. It's still early, but Public Policy Polling's most recent poll finds Obama beating Perry by a 46-point margin (72-26), ten points higher than his share of the vote against McCain. With the economy being the way it is though, he may not have to.

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