Rick Perry apologizes for ‘heartless’ comment on immigration question

Rick Perry said Wednesday that he was sorry for saying at last week's Republican debate that those opposed to providing an in-state tuition break to the children of illegal immigrants “did not have a heart.”

“I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word and it was inappropriate,” Perry said in a interview with Newsmax. “In Texas in 2001 we had 181 members of the legislature — only four voted against this piece of legislation — because it wasn’t about immigration it was about education.”


But Perry stood by his argument that building a fence along the entire Mexican border was unwise. The Texas governor said that the fence would likely be expensive, ineffective and violate the property rights of those who owned land on the border.

“In the metropolitan areas where the fencing actually can play a positive role, absolutely,” he said. “But you have to have boots on the ground … having an obstacle without observation is no obstacle at all. So just the idea of building a fence and saying, ‘That will take care of it, let’s just build a fence,’ has never worked in the history of mankind.”

Other candidates seized on Perry's support of the tuition credits — and arguments against a fence — in an attempt to discredit him during the debate. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann argued that taxpayer dollars shouldn't benefit those in the country illegally, while Jon Huntsman suggested his position on the fence might be "treasonous." But while Perry walked back his "heartless" comment, he insisted that his experience as governor of a border state best prepared him to handle immigration issues.

"As Texas governor, a border governor, you have to deal with these issue, you can’t just talk about them and say, ‘Oh, let’s build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and that will take care of it.’ We have to live with reality," Perry said.

He also reiterated criticism of the federal government for what he considers a failure to protect the southern border.

"We wouldn’t be having these conversations today, whether it’s about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants or whether it’s the Arizona law or whether it’s voter-ID which we passed in Texas, or sanctuary cities and the banning of those. … None of those would come up if the federal government had simply done its job through the years to secure our borders," Perry said.