September 4, 2011

IN A RECENT Post column, Marc A. Thiessen reported that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is biding his time before going on the offensive against his Republican rival Rick Perry, governor of Texas. When the time comes, unnamed Romney advisers said, their man will attack Mr. Perry both for being too radical (on Social Security, for example) and too accommodating (on immigration).

A premise for the latter line of attack will be Mr. Perry’s support, as governor of Texas, for a version of the Dream Act, which allows Texas youths who were brought to the country illegally by their parents but have completed high school successfully to attend state colleges with in-state tuition discounts. As we wrote in a recent editorial, Mr. Perry signed that measure in 2001, and so far he has stood by it as he seeks support in primary states — though illogically he opposes extending it nationally. “To punish these young Texans for their parents’ actions is not what America has always been about,” Mr. Perry told the New Hampshire Sunday News shortly before announcing his candidacy last month.

Mr. Romney apparently views that heresy as an opening. We asked a spokeswoman whether the former Massachusetts governor really will make an issue of Mr. Perry’s support for helping blameless, hardworking young people get an education. “I’m not going to address strategy or Gov. Perry’s positions,” she replied by e-mail. “If you are looking for Governor Romney’s position on this issue, he vetoed an in-state tuition bill in Massachusetts because he believes that government should not condone illegal behavior and that these types of benefits have the potential to bring even more people here in violation of the law.”

It seems daft for the candidate seeking to position himself as the Republican most likely to win a general election to go out of his way to alienate Hispanics, when his party is already doing a pretty good job of that. But it’s not our job to give Mr. Romney political advice. What strikes us is how wrongheaded his position is as a matter of policy.

We understand that some Americans strongly oppose broad amnesty for immigrants who came here illegally. But the Texas in-state tuition law affects people who had no choice in the illegal behavior that landed them in America. They have played by the rules as presented to them, studied hard and integrated themselves into this country. In most cases, they know no other homeland. The question for policymakers is whether it is better to give them a chance to become prosperous taxpaying contributors or to deny them an education and push them into the shadows. About a dozen states have followed Texas’s example; California is poised to join the club this week. Maryland has passed such a law, though opponents are pushing to repeal it by referendum.

As for Mr. Romney’s other argument: Are immigrants really more likely to come to Maryland, say, because they know that in 16 or 18 years their offspring may get a tuition break in College Park? We would like to see the evidence for that one.