Bloomberg News

Perry Backtracks on ‘Heart’ Remark on Illegal-Immigrant Tuition

September 29, 2011

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Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry retreated from his debate statement last week that those who oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants don’t “have a heart.”

“I probably chose a poor word to explain that,” the Texas governor told the website Newsmax in an interview yesterday. “I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word, and it was inappropriate.”

Perry, who had been the leader in national polls of the Republican race, has been on the defensive since making his “heart” comment at a televised debate Sept. 22. His Republican rivals have chastised him for it and his immigration stance threatens to alienate Republican primary voters.

“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,” Perry said at the debate, drawing boos from the Republican audience in Orlando, Florida.

He was explaining his support for a Texas law that allows children of illegal immigrants who gain admittance to state universities to pay in-state tuition rates, which are less expensive than the costs for out-of-state students.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney pounced on the comment Sept. 23, saying opposing the policy “doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart; it means that you have a heart and a brain.”

‘Hard to Explain’

Romney said he wasn’t satisfied with Perry’s backtrack, telling radio show host Sean Hannity yesterday that the Texan’s policy position is still “really unfortunate” and “very hard to explain.”

“I understand he has apologized for using the ‘you don’t have a heart’ phrase,” Romney said. “But the question here is whether the policy makes any sense,” adding that he had vetoed similar legislation as governor. “I think the American people recognize, we like legal immigration; we will, however, stop illegal immigration.”

U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota sent out fundraising appeals that told supporters, “We can’t settle for a candidate who won’t build a border fence and who will give in- state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants.”

Perry has said it is impractical to build a fence along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the Newsmax interview, Perry said the in-state tuition issue was a matter for states to decide, and the measure had near-unanimous support in Texas because it “wasn’t about immigration; it was about education.”

He also defended his stance on a border fence, saying building one would cost too much, take too long and trample on too many property rights, as well as being ineffective. Instead, he said he supports building “strategic fencing” in metropolitan areas and stationing agents on the ground and in the air to monitor the border.

“Having an obstacle without observation is no obstacle at all,” Perry said.

--Editors: Don Frederick, Jim Rubin

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at

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