Texas Republican legislators could be on the verge of repealing a landmark law, signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry almost 15 years ago, which granted in-state tuition to DREAMers. Perry’s reaction to the news this time – unlike his ardent defense of the law during the 2012 debate – was the verbal equivalent of a “who me?” shrug.
“I’m not the governor anymore,” Perry told reporters before a business roundtable here. The Legislature, he added, “will make a call on whether this is right for Texas or not, but here’s what I’m not going to change on, here’s what I’m not going to back up from, and that is to continue to call for the federal government to do its constitutional duty and secure that border.”
Perry does his best to squirm out of a response, even resorting to the often-used “border security first,” a popular talking point from Republicans trying to wipe their hands clean of having to answer any questions about immigration legislation.
But Perry’s close involvement with passage of the Texas DREAM Act, and strong vocal support in the past, really complicates things for him. Over 24,000 students have been able to access higher education in Texas — and it’s all because of legislation he signed into law.
It was only a few years ago when Perry stood firmly on the legislation. In 2011, when he first ran for President, Perry got blowback from fellow Republicans during a primary debate. But, that was then. Now, he’s hiding behind soundbites.
Just four years ago, Perry famously accused Republicans who opposed in-state tuition for DREAMers of not having a heart. He defended the legislation, calling it “a state issue” that passed by a significant bipartisan majority in the legislature. And as recently as September of last year, he was still on record as supporting it.
But, yesterday’s response from Perry looks more like an abdication of leadership. And as much as Perry may avoid answering on his current position, a repeal of the Texas DREAM Act has national implications for Republicans. In 2012, Mitt Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act if he won and it reached his desk. On the other, President Obama instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was met with an enthusiastic response from Latino voters.
It’s likely this issue will become a flashpoint in the GOP presidential campaign again in 2016. Perry made the DREAM Act a reality in 2001 even if he’s trying to create distance now. Meanwhile, his fellow Texan, Ted Cruz, has staked out his political career on an anti-immigrant platform. Another Republican expected to run, Chris Christie, signed New Jersey’s DREAM Act into law in 2013.
Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have in the past supported in-state tuition for DREAMers, and Rand Paul’s office, when questioned by the New York Times on the Republican efforts to repeal DREAM in Texas, simply offered no comment. Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush, currently an elected statewide Republican officeholder in Texas, supports it too:
Perry also praised land commissioner candidate George P. Bush’s defense of the controversial program in a Tribune Festival interview on Friday. Bush said in the interview that the program is “a nominal cost for the state of Texas.”
It’s more than likely most of these candidates will claim that they’d rather not dive into state legislative issues, but as Frank Sharry has pointed out, several already did when it came to speaking out about Indiana’s LGBT discrimination law.