National Review Online’s Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru raise a number of questions abut Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They title the fifth of their concerns: “How much will immigration hurt?” They describe the “problem” as follows:

Reflecting the close ties of his state to Mexico, Perry is to the left of the center of gravity of the rest of the party on the issue. Most significantly, he signed a Texas version of the DREAM Act back in 2001, allowing foreign-born children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition for college if they have lived in the state for three years prior to graduating high school. He explained, “We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, ‘We don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.’ And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers.” He stood by the law in a recent interview, although he opposes the federal version. . . . He also opposed the Arizona immigration law. He criticized it on grounds that it would “turn law-enforcement officers into immigration officials,” and said it wouldn’t be right for Texas.

Lowry and Ponnuru acknowledge that Perry is not an advocate for “open borders” (whew!), but nevertheless wonder if he won’t be “hurt by his softer line.”

Well, there is another perspective on this. But first let’s look at the total picture.

Perry got about 39 percent of the Hispanic vote in his last election. A GOP insider well-versed on the subject who is unaffiliated with any campaign tells me Perry appointed a number of Hispanics to state offices and judgeships. The Hispanic Republican Conference in the state legislature endorsed him, even before he announced his run. Plainly, he must be doing something right.

Shortly after George W. Bush was elected president, Perry wrote a letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News, “I take strong issue with a news report in the Dallas Morning News mischaracterizing my position on amnesty for undocumented immigrants from Mexico. The truth is, I am intrigued and open to the Bush administration’s amnesty proposal. Most Texans would agree that it’s better to have legal, taxpaying immigrants from Mexico working in the United States than illegal immigrants living in fear of the law and afraid to access basic services.”

During the fight over comprehensive immigration reform, a Republican involved in the effort to pass the bill recalls that Perry neither championed nor sought to derail the legislation.

In short, Perry has treated illegal immigration as a security issue but steered clear of other anti-immigrant measures. When Arizona enacted its controversial statute, he explicitly rejected that approach for Texas. His statement read:

“Texas has a rich history with Mexico, our largest trading partner, and we share more than 1,200 miles of border, more than any other state. As the debate on immigration reform intensifies, the focus must remain on border security and the federal government’s failure to adequately protect our borders. Securing our border is a federal responsibility, but it is a Texas problem, and it must be addressed before comprehensive immigration reform is discussed.

“Recently, there has been much debate over immigration policy in Washington and what has been implemented in Arizona. I fully recognize and support a state’s right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas.

“For example, some aspects of the law turn law enforcement officers into immigration officials by requiring them to determine immigration status during any lawful contact with a suspected alien, taking them away from their existing law enforcement duties, which are critical to keeping citizens safe. Our focus must continue to be on the criminal elements involved with conducting criminal acts against Texans and their property. I will continue to work with the legislative leadership to develop strategies that are appropriate for Texas.

“Securing the border has to be a top priority, which is why I have a standing request with the federal government for 1,000 Title 32 National Guardsmen who can support civilian law enforcement efforts to enhance border security in Texas. I have also requested predator drones be based in and operate over the Texas-Mexico border to provide essential information about criminal activity to law enforcement on the ground.

“Until the federal government brings the necessary resources to bear, we will continue to commit state funding and resources for additional border security efforts in order to protect our communities and legitimate cross border trade and travel, while enforcing the laws already on the books.”

This is not exactly wild-eyed stuff. And depending on the progress of the litigation over the Arizona statute, Perry may be proven farsighted in avoiding a firestorm of criticism and large litigation costs for his state.

Lowry and Ponnuru are correct that Perry championed a bill providing for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. It was the first of its kind in the nation. In 2007 he stood resolutely behind that measure, as the Houston Chronicle reported:

Gov. Rick Perry said today he will oppose efforts to repeal a law, which he signed six years ago, giving tuition breaks to undocumented immigrants attending state universities.

“I’m for leaving the law like it is because I think it serves a good purpose,’’ he said. . . .

Perry said he and the media might have failed to adequately educate the public about the tuition law, which has drawn fire during the ongoing debate over illegal immigration.

State legislators have filed at least four bills to repeal the measure, which grants lower, in-state tuition to the children of immigrants who have lived in Texas at least three years, have graduated from a Texas high school and plan to become citizens.

Opponents say it is unfair to give the financial break to illegal immigrants when many U.S. citizens who are non-Texas residents have to pay more to attend college here. Supporters say it helps immigrants become productive citizens . . . .

“The only way that you can be eligible for that in-state tuition is if you are in the process of getting your citizenship. If you’re not in the queue, working towards getting your citizenship, you’re not eligible for it,’’ Perry said.

“I think that’s been highly overlooked in this debate.’’

However, under the law, students do not have to actually have applied for citizenship — they only have to promise that they will.

On other issues:

[The governor] repeated his vow to seek $100 million to strengthen security along the border, urged the federal government to enact a guest worker program and said he opposes legislation to remove citizenship rights from the Texas-born children of immigrants.

“First and foremost, it [the birthright proposal] is unconstitutional,’’ he said.

As for border enforcement, Perry has repeatedly criticized the notion of fence along the entire border with Mexico but hasn’t scrimped on other border enforcement measures. Moreover, early this year he urged passage of a law to abolish sanctuary cities in the state.

Considering the importance of the Hispanic community in Texas’s political, economic and social life, it’s hard to imagine a successful governor not taking this approach. As a governor, he’s had to deal with the federal government’s inexcusable neglect, so he has chosen to provide education benefits but also ruled out sanctuary cities. That’s not as extreme as some on either side of the issue would like, but it’s a defensible place for the governor of Texas to be.

Perhaps this approach is too “soft” for conservatives. Maybe the RedState bloggers who helped kick off his campaign (and who are staunchly opposed to immigration reform) will recoil in horror and drop him like a hot potato. But I sort of doubt it.

I understand this is seen as a liability for Perry by a segment of the base. But we’ll have to see if it really is, or whether it is an argument for his electability.