Perry Defends In-State Tuition for Students ‘No Matter How You Got Into That State’

By Terence P. Jeffrey | September 13, 2011 | 2:30 PM EDT

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry put their hansds over their hearts during the singing of the National Anthem at the Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Fla., on Sept. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

( - In the CNN-Tea Party Republican presidential debate last night, Texas Gov. Rick Perry defended a law he signed in Texas that allows illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges there, saying that a person should be able to pay the lower tuition rate “no matter how you got into that state.”

In fact, U.S. citizens who are residents of Oklahoma and Louisiana—or New York or California, or any other state—who legally enter Texas by driving or flying there are not allowed to pay in-state tuition at Texas public colleges.

The law Perry signed extends that privilege only to foreign nationals living in Texas.

Under the Texas law enacted in June 2001, a foreign national who has lived in Texas for three years, who graduates from a Texas high school or gets a GED, and who signs an affidavit promising to seek permanent-legal-resident status in the United States if they become eligible for that status, is given in-state tuition at Texas public schools. This applies to foreign nationals who have entered the U.S. legally and illegally.

By contrast, U.S. citizens from other states who want to receive in-state tuition at Texas public colleges must move to Texas and live there legally for one year to qualify as a Texas resident.

In last night’s debate, after former Sen. Rick Santorum made an issue of the in-state tuition law that Perry signed, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Perry about it.

“In the state of Texas, if you've been in the state of Texas for three years, if you're working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there,” said Perry.

“And the bottom line is, it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way,” said Perry. “No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. And that's what we've done in the state of Texas. And I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole.”

Blitzer then asked Rep. Michele Bachmann if she believed Perry’s in-state tuition law was “basically the DREAM Act that President Obama wants as well.”

“Yes, it's very similar,” said Bachmann. “And I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way. Because the immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws.

“What works is to have people come into the United States with a little bit of money in their pocket legally with sponsors so that if anything happens to them, they don't fall back on the taxpayers to take care of them,” said Bachmann. “And then they also have to agree to learn to speak the English language, learn American history and our constitution. That's the American way.”

Perry countered by saying he is not for the DREAM Act, calling that federal legislation a form of “amnesty.”

“I'm not for the DREAM Act that they are talking about in Washington D.C. that is amnesty,” said Perry. “What we did in the state of Texas was clearly a states right issue. And the legislature passed with only four dissenting votes in the House and the Senate to allow this to occur.

“We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you,” said Perry. “That if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship, that we're going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state.”

Under the U.S. Constitution, the government of the state of Texas cannot makes laws regulating the naturalization of citizens. Only the U.S. Congress can do that. The federal DREAM Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, would allow illegal aliens who came to the United States as minors became permanent legal residents of the United States if they attend college or join the military.