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Asked About In-State Tuition Law, Perry Defers to Legislators

Former Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday deferred to state lawmakers on whether they want to repeal Texas' in-state tuition law, a measure he signed into law in 2001 and has defended to varying degrees ever since.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a video interview in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5, 2015.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former Gov. Rick Perry, whose support for Texas’ in-state tuition law has drawn conservative criticism and complicated his failed 2012 presidential campaign, offered a less than forceful defense of the measure Tuesday, largely deferring to state lawmakers who are considering a repeal. 

"I'm not the governor anymore," Perry told reporters before a business roundtable at the Central Electric Power Cooperative. The Legislature, he added, "will make a call on whether this is right for Texas or not, but here’s what I’m not going to change on, here’s what I’m not going to back up from, and that is to continue to call for the federal government to do its constitutional duty and secure that border.”

Perry's remarks came hours after a Texas Senate subcommittee advanced a bill to undo the law, which offers in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who wish to attend public colleges and universities in the state. Perry has provided varying defenses of the statute since it emerged as an issue in his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2012, more recently suggesting the reasons legislators backed it in 2001 still resonate today.

As he often does, Perry noted Tuesday the measure passed the Legislature with "overwhelming" bipartisan support before he signed it into law in 2001. Back then, the former governor said, Texas “had a choice to make economically: Are you going to put these people in a position of having to rely upon government to take care of themselves, or are you going to let them be educated and be contributing members of society, obviously working towards their citizenship."

"Obviously that’s what that legislation did," Perry told reporters. "I supported that in that particular point in time.”

Pressed on what his stance on the law is today, he again said it is up to state lawmakers. 

“They’re going to look at all of the impact, but I hope what the Legislature will do is really send a powerful message to Washington, D.C., to their congressman, to the senators, that you must deal with this issue of border security,” Perry told reporters. "You must allow the states to be able to know that they’re not going to have to pick up the cost because the federal government’s failing to do their job to secure the border.”

After Perry finished the roundtable, he weighed in on another topic capturing headlines Tuesday: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s announcement hours earlier that he is running for president. Perry called the Kentucky Republican a “capable, thoughtful guy” and said he is “proud for him” for entering the race.

The two have not always seen eye to eye, particularly on foreign policy. They clashed last year after Perry cast Paul as an isolationist "curiously blind" to the threats America faces from abroad. On Tuesday, though, Perry restrained from reviving the line of attack.

“I think there’s plenty of time for us to lay out our ideas about foreign policy, but I do think it’s important that Americans are engaged in this conversation, that we really talk about how do we make America more secure.” Perry told the Tribune. “There’s plenty of time to do that.”

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