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On Immigration, Perry Should Take the Offensive

The Texas governor has nothing to apologize for.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

September 22, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry obviously needs some coaching on how to talk about illegal immigration — especially during the remaining Republican presidential debates.

Oh, Perry is doing fine. But he can do better if he stops being so polite and fires back at his opponents with both barrels. He needs to get off the defensive, and get on the offensive.

It’s not like he can avoid the topic. You can bet that it will keep coming up. In fact, it’s likely to make an appearance in the debate in Orlando, FL, which is sponsored by Fox News, Google, and the Florida Republican Party.

There are three reasons why this topic won’t go away for Republicans: GOP voters care about it; Perry’s Republican opponents see it as the Achilles’ heel for the GOP frontrunner; and the liberal media enjoys the sight of Republicans fighting with one another, especially over an issue that makes many of them seem dishonest, extreme, and out of touch.

For now, Republicans are livid over how Perry answered questions in the most recent CNN/Tea Party debate.

They hate that he didn’t apologize, grovel, and beg forgiveness for signing, in 2001, a fairness bill that allows illegal immigrants who attend state colleges and universities in the Lone Star State, and who are in the process of getting citizenship, to pay in-state tuition like any other state resident.

They hate that Perry, rather than give into bullying from the right wing, defends the concept to this day as having worked for Texas and benefited its economy by creating productive residents and not simply creating an underclass of uneducated individuals who can’t contribute to the economy.

But what they really hate are the words that Perry chose to defend what he did.

“The bottom line,” Perry said, “is it doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is.”

Conservatives got the message. They knew exactly what Perry was trying to get across — that, often, especially in a border state like Texas, the immigration debate gets wrapped up in race and racism, ethnicity and ethnocentrism. The issue isn’t that people are coming illegally, as much as who is coming.

Nonsense, said Newt Gingrich, another Republican who is vying for the party’s nomination.

“It’s not about somebody’s last name,” Gingrich said during an appearance on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. “That’s baloney. That particular line I thought was slightly goofy. The question is whether you are legal or not legal.”

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