“We decided it was in the best interest of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity their pursuing citizenship in this country, rather than saying, you know, we're going to put you over here and put you on the government dole for the rest of your life.”
--Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sept. 12, 2011
This line in Monday’s GOP debate, sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express, puzzled us.
Perry, under attack by his rivals for allowing illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid at Texas’ public universities, responded that he was trying to make sure they did not end up on welfare.
That’s an interesting but strange argument. We sent a query to the Perry campaign, asking for an explanation, and as usual did not get a response.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that illegal immigrant children must be educated free of charge in public schools, Texas in 2001 became the first state in the country to pass an in-state tuition law. Many states have now followed suit.
As the Dallas Morning News has noted, thousands of students have begun to graduate but are unable to work legally because immigration reform has stalled in Congress.
That points to the flaw in Perry’s explanation for providing the tuition break: Illegal immigrants cannot get welfare benefits, which we presume Perry was referring to when he spoke of the “government dole.” In fact, for a period after passage of the 1996 welfare reform law, even legal immigrants could not get welfare benefits, let alone illegal immigrants.
In a report last year, the Congressional Research Service outlined the benefits that are available to immigrants. It states quite plainly: “Unauthorized aliens (often referred to as illegal aliens) are not eligible for most federal benefits, regardless of whether they are means tested, with notable exceptions for emergency services.”
The Pinocchio Test
Perry needs a new talking point on this law. Claiming that he wants to prevent illegal aliens from getting welfare benefits does not pass the laugh test.