Gov. Rick Perry’s Record on Immigration – Can He Appeal to Latino Voters & the Tea Party?


Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Even before Rick Perry announced he was running for president on Saturday his critics were chiming in—this Texas governor may call himself a conservative, but he doesn’t have the right background on immigration to merit that title.

Former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, wrote an opinion piece in Politico arguing that Perry supports “completely open borders.” He skewered Perry for pushing through a law allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges, opposing a border fence, expressing concerns about Arizona’s SB 1070 law and opposing the use of E-verify to check the status of all state workers.

Tancredo exaggerated a little bit—Perry did not really support “completely open borders.” He stated in 2007 that under a biometric identification system that would track individuals to ensure they paid taxes and obeyed U.S. laws, he would advocate 24-month visas for workers and support the “free flow of individuals between these two countries who want to work and want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico.” Notably, Perry made those remarks while in Mexico City to strengthen trade ties between Texas and Mexico, something which has contributed to Texas’ economic boom in the last decade.

Tancredo, the former chairman of the bipartisan Immigration Reform Caucus, is an immigration enforcement hawk, and now serves as chairman of Team America PAC, which exists solely,  “for one and only one reason: to support the election to Congress of candidates who share our commitment to supporting full border security, and opposing all amnesty measures for illegal aliens (whether they call it amnesty or not).”

Despite not being as extreme as Tancredo, Perry is by no means an immigration-enforcement dove. He may have called the idea of a border fence “idiocy,” but he advocates “boots on the ground” along the border with Mexico. He unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill prohibiting “sanctuary cities” in Texas.

Even so, Perry may have to toss a coin between wooing Latino voters or members of the Tea Party.

Texas has the nation’s second largest Hispanic population, accounting for 38 percent of state residents. As Perry campaigns for the Republican nomination, he’ll have to make a choice: tell the nation he’d like to expand his Texas-style immigration policies to the 49 other states, or ditch his previous words and appeal for the votes of immigration hard-liners.  Suzanne Guggenheim, a Texas-based member of the Tea Party Patriots National Leadership Council, told the Associated Press, “There is some disappointment” with Perry’s leadership on immigration.

But Marisa Treviño, editor and publisher of Texas-based LatinaLista, wrote that if Perry sticks to his guns, he may be the sole Republican candidate who stands a chance of capturing the votes of Hispanic U.S. citizens—21.3 million of whom were eligible to vote in 2010.

If he remains the only GOP candidate who doesn’t vilify undocumented immigrants or distorts the facts of illegal immigration, he may just win himself a sizeable portion of the Latino electorate who want to identify themselves as conservatives but, at this point, don’t feel welcomed.


AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.