Rick Perry's wife defends candidate on immigration

Perry embraces his wife Anita at the Victory Texas and Republican Party of Texas election night watch party at the Texas Disposal Systems Exotic Game Ranch on November 2, 2010 in Buda, Texas. Gov. Perry was elected to his third full term by defeating Democratic challenger Bill White.
Photo by Ben Sklar/Getty Images
Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry embraces his wife Anita.
Photo by Ben Sklar/Getty Images

Des Moines, IA - Anita Perry, the wife of GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry, defended her husband Tuesday against attacks on his positions on illegal immigration, asserting strongly that the in-state tuition program he approved was "not a subsidy."

Speaking to the Polk County Republican Central Committee in Clive, Iowa, the Texas first lady told the crowd of about 75, "Either we take care of those populations, or they get on welfare, which is a greater cost to our taxpayers. Or we give them the opportunity to graduate from a Texas school, the opportunity to be a contributing member of society. ... It is not a subsidy."

Gov. Perry, who was in Washington, D.C. raising money for his campaign while his wife was in Iowa, has made identical arguments in defense of the law since it came under heavy criticism by his Republican rivals recently. Reading from prepared remarks, Anita Perry reviewed her husband's record on border security and the reasoning behind his support for a law that allows the children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Texas colleges. Perry has been accused by some of his fellow presidential candidates of using taxpayer money to subsidize illegal immigrants and has even been compared to President Obama on the issue.

"Some have attacked Rick on this issue of immigration, in fact I hear a lot of it here in Iowa," Mrs. Perry told the crowd in the nation's first-caucus state. "So I want you to be armed with the facts."

"He has sent Texas Rangers, he has put boots on the ground, better technology to stop the war, the flow of drugs, weapons, and people," she said, later adding, "Keep in mind, Rick is the same governor who vetoed drivers' licenses for illegal aliens, who fought to keep sanctuary cities out, and who just billed the federal government $350 million for the cost of incarcerating illegal aliens."

The issue of illegal immigration is a growing problem for Perry, whose defense of the law has not satisfied conservatives in his party. During last week's Republican debate in Orlando, the governor said that if someone opposed his tuition discounts, "I don't think you have a heart." The statement rankled the Republican audience and was quickly seized on by his opponents. (Perry later apologized.)

Anita Perry admitted that the recent debates have not gone well for her husband, but said the problem was one of style and not substance.

"Some people may be more polished in their presentations. You know what? I think we've got a debater-in-chief right now," she said, referring to Obama. "I'm not looking for a debater-in-chief. I'm looking for a leader and a commander-in-chief, who will do the right thing to get our country back on the right track and working again."

  • Sarah Huisenga On Twitter»

    Sarah Huisenga is covering the Mitt Romney campaign for CBS News and National Journal.