At Values Voter Summit, Perry Attempts to Pivot on Immigration

Written by Noah Kristula-Green on Friday October 7, 2011

When I saw Mike Pence at the 2010 Values Voters Summit, he opened his speech by stating he was a "I am a Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order." Rick Santorum gave a speech at this year's summit which emphasized how he was a part of the Values Voters "family" and that he had long been a foot soldier for their issues.

In contrast with these possible framings, Rick Perry gave a speech to the Values Voters Audience which had socially conservative elements, but which touched on many more issues to reestablish his credibility as a presidential candidate. Arguably, the most aggressive and forceful part of the speech was where Perry worked to strengthen his conservative credentials on a topic that has been hurt him in the polls--immigration.

At the last GOP Presidential debate, Perry defended his problem to provide in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants and argued that those who opposed his program were "heartless". These comments were followed by a fall in poll numbers particularly in the South, and a surge of support towards Herman Cain.

So Perry came out strongly against this topic in his speech:

"I know first hand the failure to our federal border policies, and know the answer to those failures is not to grant amnesty to those who broke the law."

He reminded the audience that he signed a law requiring an ID to vote. Vetoed legislation that would allow drivers licenses to be to given to illegal immigrants.

He also tried to impress upon the audience the national-security problems on the border:

"Make no mistake, what we are seeing south of our border is nothing short of a way being waged by these narco-terrorists. They represent a clear and a  present danger to our country. They spread violence to American cities."

His most ambitious language? Possibly talking about cooperating with Mexico on security issues:

"In the face of this threat we shouldn't take any option off the table. Including security operations in the operation with the Mexican government as we did with Colombia some year ago."

The contrast between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry gets even more stark with these announcements from Rick Perry. Romney has spoken at length in the Republican debates about how illegal immigration needs to stopped by "turning off the magnet" within the US that attracts illegals: the lack of enforcement of employment laws.

Perry by contrast has to cast the issue as an external one: the very same policies that Romney are proposing to reduce illegal immigration would not have brought in the cheap labor that allows for Perry to provide positive-sounding statistics about job creation in Texas. And as his policies make clear, he is interested in having as many immigrants work as possible, but as few immigrants vote as possible.