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Perry defends law allowing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry gestures during a Republican presidential debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. AP Photo/Mike Carlson

Prompting "boos" from the boisterous audience at Monday night's Tea Party-sponsored Republican presidential debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry stood by his 2001 decision to allow some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas universities, arguing "it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is."

"That is the American way," Perry said.

According to the law, often referred to as the Texas DREAM Act, students who have lived in Texas for at least three years and have graduated from high school or obtained a GED certificate are qualified to pay in-state tuition in Texas universities.

"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," Perry said. "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."

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"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," he added.

Former two-term Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum suggested that Perry's support for the Texas DREAM act was a ploy to attract Latino voters.

"What Governor Perry's done is he provided in-state tuition for -- for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote -- I mean, the Latino voters," Santorum said, quickly correcting his flub.

Bachmann argued that the law Perry signed was "very similar" to one President Obama has long been lobbying for, and contended that providing undocumented immigrants with in-state education rates was "not the American way."

"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," she said. "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."

She added: "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. And then they also have to agree to learn the speak the English language, learn American history and our constitution. That's the American way."

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Perry quickly attempted to distance himself from Mr. Obama's proposed DREAM Act, but emphasized that his legislation passed with bipartisan support.

"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," he said. "We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. 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."

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