In an August 2001 speech given during a border summit, Gov. Rick Perry delivered a stirring endorsement of a law passed earlier that year with bipartisan support in the Texas Legislature:
We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, “we don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.” And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers. That’s why Texas took the national lead in allowing such deserving young minds to attend a Texas college at a resident rate. Those young minds are a part of a new generation of leaders, the doors of higher education must be open to them. The message is simple: educacion es el futuro, y si se puede.
Complete with a Spanish “yes we can,” that speech used rhetoric very similar to language from Democratic politicians today to support the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — otherwise known as the DREAM Act.
Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law a few months earlier, effectively granting undocumented immigrants in Texas the ability to receive in-state tuition at publicly funded colleges and universities.
A decade later, that law is the centerpiece of growing conservative criticism of Perry’s record as Texas governor.
While the law has been compared to the federal version of the proposed DREAM Act, the Texas version has significant differences. The law requires student to reside in Texas with a parent while attending high school, and graduate from a high school or receive a GED in Texas after living in the state for at least three years.
An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) requires students to sign an affidavit indicating they will apply for permanent resident status as soon as they can — a measure similar to the federal bill.
The federal DREAM Act, though, is much larger in scope, and requires much more of undocumented students hoping to qualify. The bill’s most recent incarnation requires students to prove that they arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday, and requires them to register for the military draft. There is also the so-called “good moral character” requirement, a sort of criminal background check.
The Texas bill was introduced by former state Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), who would run an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate against Sen. John Cornyn six years later. Noriega had 19 co-authors on his bill, which passed unanimously through the House Higher Education Committee, where nobody testified against the bill.
State Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas) was the only House member to vote against the bill, joined by Mike Jackson (R- Flower Mound), Jane Nelson (R- Denton), and Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) in the Senate.
Lately, Perry has made a point of mentioning how little resistance the bill met at the time.
As the Texas Independent reported in 2010, Noriega said the passed thanks to “the efforts of a very large coalition of businesses, chambers of commerce and advocacy groups. The lone voice in opposition would always be the anti-immigrant community.”
The support for the bill was bipartisan, including some of the staunchest immigration opponents the Capitol has to offer — even state Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler), who’s known for far-right positions on undocumented immigrants, Sharia law and the enduring mystery of President Obama’s birth certificate.
But other Republicans have grilled Perry in presidential debates over the Texas version of the DREAM Act. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he “just can’t follow” the argument for offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, calling it a “$100,000 discount if you’re illegal aliens,” and a “magnet” that draws people into the country.
According to the Dallas Morning News, last year Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported that 12,138 undocumented students, or about one percent of all Texas college students, received in-state tuition.
As the Teas Independent reported, even Texas’ Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst piled onto the criticism of the 2001 law, saying that he “would not have signed that law.”
The National Review Online’s The Corner blog called the Texas law “mini-amnesty.”
Perry defended the Texas law during last week’s Fox News/Google debate. “I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said, if you would limit access to education for people who’ve come to the country through “no fault of their own.”