Romney still hitting Perry on immigration

The Mitt Romney campaign recently launched its first paid attack on Rick Perry — a series of robo calls in Iowa, featuring the voice of Arizona border-county Sheriff Paul Babeau. In the call, Babeau brands Perry “part of the illegal immigration problem.” Not surprisingly, Babeau mentions Perry’s opposition to a border fence and support for in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants as evidence of Perry’s troublesome positions on the issue.

Babeau doesn’t mention, however, that Perry also supports work visas for illegal immigrants — perhaps because Perry only recently prominently articulated that position:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry proposed the federal government should extend work visas allowing illegal immigrants to move freely between the U.S. and their home countries — but stressed that he opposes amnesty or a path to citizenship.

Perry said in an interview with CNN’s John King on Thursday that expectations that U.S. authorities are going to arrest and deport up to 15 million illegal immigrants isn’t realistic. He added, however, that other Republicans, including fellow Texan George W. Bush, went too far when they previously proposed an immigration overhaul that included a path to citizenship. …

“You can put a program into place in which these individuals can be identified, and work visas in which they can move back and forth between their countries but not to become United States citizens,” Perry said. “And I think that’s where McCain, that’s where Romney, that’s where even Bush went wrong when they talked about the issue that, `we’re going to give amnesty to these individuals,’ and people just said, `no, we’re not.”‘

That Romney has directly invested dollars to oppose Perry’s already problematic immigration positions underscores the fact that the former Massachusetts governor must still perceive Perry as his long-term rival, despite Herman Cain’s recent domination of both the polls and the news cycle.

Perry’s best attempts to revive his campaign have not yet seemed to catch on — and his early defense of his in-state tuition law was inelegant and clumsy, at best — but his positions on immigration really shouldn’t disqualify him from the GOP nomination. Taken in totality, they reflect a pragmatic approach that yet respects the rule of law. He recognizes securing the border — including with strategic fencing — as the necessary first step to a sound immigration policy and rejects amnesty as the ultimate sanction of illegal entry into the country, but also proposes policies that might enable the U.S. economy to legitimately benefit from the productivity of non-U.S. citizen workers.

At a time of high unemployment, that might not be a top concern. In fact, the top concern might be the opposite: How do we retain jobs for American workers? But support for in-state tuition or work visas can’t necessarily be held against Perry from a rule of law standpoint and, again, need not disqualify him for the nomination, especially in light of Romney’s equally squishy positions.

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