Yesterday Texas Gov. Rick Perry (either his old or his new campaign) attacked Mitt Romney because illegal immigrants in Massachusetts are able to obtain medical benefits under the state’s health-care plan. There are a number of problems with this argument, including the need to provide medical care in order to prevent public health hazards. But for now I will focus on the sheer hypocrisy of the charge.

Katrina Trinko of National Review Online explains:

[T]he Romney campaign also argues that Texas provides medical care for illegal immigrants, too. Among the examples cited include $62 million the care of illegal immigrants cost the Texas Emergency Medicaid fund and the $33 million the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Perinatal Coverage is estimated to have spent on illegal immigrants.

It took the Romney campaign a few hours to uncover reams of other examples: Designated “emergency” care was provided to illegal immigrants on a non-emergency basis; state prenatal care is provided to “women living at up to 200% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) who do not otherwise qualify for Medicaid, typically due to their citizenship status”; substance abuse treatment is provided regardless of citizenship; and care is provided for special-needs children regardless of immigration status.

In particular, “The issue of providing preventive health care for undocumented immigrants was addressed in 2003 with the passage of H.B. 2292, which granted local indigent health care entities explicit permission to provide preventive and acute care services to area residents without regard to their immigration status.” Perry signed that bill. And the list goes on.

By no means do I want to suggest that Texas should not have been providing these services or that Perry shouldn’t have signed H.B. 2292. There are moral, public health and economic reasons not to have the sick and injured go untreated.

What is, however, rather low is for Perry, who has made a career of defending a nonpunitive approach to illegal immigration, to turn the issue into a stick with which to beat his opponent. It reeks of desperation. And, really, what is Perry’s point? Should hospitals and doctors insist the sick, pregnant and injured provide citizenship papers before getting treatment? Obviously, he doesn’t believe that. His state wouldn’t tolerate that.

Perry may or may not revive his presidential campaign. It looks now like he has a steep hill to climb. But in the process, he shouldn’t incinerate his reputation and lose his moral bearings.