Immigration has taken a back seat to the economy and jobs this primary season, much to the chagrin of immigration hawks who are concerned that current Republican front-runner Rick Perry is escaping scrutiny for his immigration record as governor of Texas.
Discussing immigration in 2011 is hard for any Republican seeking higher office — forcing a tight-rope walk between pleasing a base that is staunchly anti-illegal immigration while at the same time avoiding alienating the ever-growing Latino vote.
According to immigration hawks, however, the issue ought to be at the top of the agenda. Should they get their wish, advocates say former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann can score political points by hitting Perry on his immigration record, which include providing in-state tuition to the children of illegals and opposing the Arizona immigration law, SB-1070.
“Perry has a certain amount of insulation on the immigration issue, [and it] isn’t just that his opponents haven’t really attacked him on it, it’s because it goes counter to his cowboy-shooting Texas swagger,” Mark Krikorian, executive director for The Center for Immigration Studies, told The DC.
“People expect him to be really tough on immigration and they expect the elite East Coast Rockefeller Romney to be terrible on immigration,” Krikorian continued. “The fact that it’s the opposite is a difficult thing to communicate, it’s a weakness potentially, a vulnerability that has to be pushed because … if people don’t focus on it and don’t know about it, they just assume that Perry’s got to be hawkish on immigration because he shot that coyote.”
Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who ran on a hard-line anti-illegal immigration platform in the 2008 GOP presidential primary, has been very hard on Perry. Tancredo told TheDC that Perry’s record on immigration should disqualify him from being the Republican presidential nominee.
“Between being in favor for in-state tuition for the children of illegals, attacking Arizona for its immigration law, opposing a border fence and rejecting e-verify, I don’t think he can be the Republican presidential nominee,” Tancredo said. (ALSO ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Gingrich to unveil new ‘Contract with America’ next week)
Perry has also felt the wrath of conservative firebrand Ann Coulter who has hit the Texas governor hard for being “just a little bit too much like George Bush” when it comes to immigration.
Despite the heavy criticism, Perry’s immigration record is not entirely toothless. While Numbers USA, a limited immigration group, gave Perry a D- for his record (in fairness the rest of the GOP field hovers in the “D” and “C” range) the group has cheered some of his policies, especially his rhetoric surrounding border enforcement, for which the group gave him an “excellent” rating.
“Well, the first thing you need to do is have boots on the ground, “Perry said at the September 7 Republican debate. “We’ve had a request in to this administration since … January of 2009 for 1,000 border patrol agents or National Guard troops, and working towards 3,000 border patrol.”
“That’s just on the Texas border,” he continued. “There’s another 50 percent more for the entire Mexican border. So you can secure the border, but it requires a commitment of the federal government of putting those boots on the ground, the aviation assets in the air. We think predator drones could be flown, that real-time information coming down to the local and the state and the federal law enforcement.”
Perry also signed a controversial Voter ID Act this year and pushed for legislation against “sanctuary cities” — a bill that Tea Party members in Texas this week demanded he revive to prove his anti-illegal bona fides.
Immigration might not be front and center, but as candidate jockey for votes, the topic is sure to get more play from candidates who are looking for ways to hit Perry.