SPENCER, Iowa — Rick Perry has an immigration problem.
In all three of his appearances in Iowa on Saturday, voters pressed the Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate on the issue, specifically his decision to grant in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants.
Perry has acknowledged that he made a mistake when he referred to people who opposed his policy as heartless during a debate last month. But he has stood fast on his decision to grant the tuition break in Texas.
Responding to voters’ questions here, Perry argued that in Texas, helping the children of illegal immigrants was a way to create “taxpayers, not tax-wasters.” He assured one questioner that there were “no free rides” in Texas for the children of illegal immigrants, although the dispute is over whether to grant reduced in-state tuition, not free college, for illegal immigrants.
And Perry emphasized that in Texas he opposed legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses and supported a provision that requires Texans to show some form of identification to vote.
He didn’t seem to win over the audiences.
“I wasn’t sure, really, I got what I was looking for,” said Fae Groff-Moritz, a medical records clerk who asked the governor about his immigration stance after an event in Orange City.
Sam Clovis, a talk-radio host in Sioux City who heard Perry speak there, said the governor hadn’t addressed the issue to his satisfaction.
“States cannot grant a path to citizenship,” Clovis said, arguing that only the federal government should determine citizenship and, therefore, who can receive in-state tuition.
Howard Kinvldespire, who heard Perry speak in this northwest Iowa town, said, “He’s giving illegals an edge in education. I don’t like that.”
The 2001 provision that Perry signed allows undocumented students who have graduated from a Texas high school, lived in the state for three years and signed an affidavit promising to seek legal status to be become eligible for scholarships and to pay in-state tuition. Rates for international students and those from the other 49 states to attend the Texas state university system are much higher.
Perry has said he would not support a national version of the provision.
The Texas governor, who has struggled to handle questions on this issue in the Republican primary debates, may be granted a reprieve Tuesday. A debate to be hosted by The Washington Post and Bloomberg News in New Hampshire is expected to focus mainly on topics such as job creation.
Staff writer Sandhya Somashekhar contributed to this report.