Updated 2:04 p.m. Eastern Time
AMHERST, N.H. - Courted by many of the Republican presidential candidates, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio gave his endorsement Tuesday to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a development that could help Perry reverse a perception that he is soft on illegal immigration.
"I like the governor, in fact I'll say it right now, it's a pleasure and honor to endorse you for president," Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, said at a campaign event with Perry. He also told the crowd of about 75 people that he wasn't going to pan any of Perry's rivals, including Atlanta businessman Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann, both of whom met with him earlier in the cycle.
Perry also used the occasion to toughen his rhetoric on the issue. He said that as president, he will "detain and deport every illegal alien that we apprehend," drawing a distinction with what he cast as President Obama's catch and release policy, which Perry called "horrific."
He defended his immigration record, promising to "be a law and order president just as I have been a law and order governor." And, in the wake of rival Newt Gingrich's difficulty on the issue, Perry said, "Amnesty is not on the table, period." The former House speaker has been on the defensive since he called for a path to legality for illegal immigrants who have been in the country 25 years or longer, and have deep community ties and no criminal records.
Perry has been forced to spend the bulk of his campaign defending a 2001 Texas law that gives in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. He has struggled to settle on an explanation, wavering between accusing his detractors of not having a heart, calling it a state issue, and explaining that he was striving to turn those citizens into "taxpayers, not tax-wasters."
Arpaio, whose southern Arizona County suffers high illegal immigration rates, is known as an immigration hard-liner, but has also drawn the ire of civil liberties groups for some of his controversial tactics, including putting detainees in poor housing conditions and targeting Latino residents to check their immigration status.
Not every Republican thinks the endorsement will serve Perry well, however. Former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said a hard-line on immigration won't play particularly well in the first-in-the-nation primary, where independent voters have a big impact.
"He'd be far better off politically doing what (Gingrich) has done -- defend his sensible position -- than to look like he's trying to have it both ways by embracing Arpaio," he wrote in an e-mail. "I think by any rational definition, Arpaio is both 'heartless' on immigration -- and brainless, too."