Texas governor favors tuition breaks for illegal students at home but not 'amnesty'

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks about Israel during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Mary Altaffer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - For Rick Perry, immigration may be what health care is to Mitt Romney: Both Republican presidential candidates are struggling to distinguish policies they implemented as governors from proposals pushed by Democrats at a national level.

At a press conference here today, Perry said he would not support the federal DREAM Act, even though he signed a Texas version into law in 2001.

"I think that the federal DREAM act is just amnesty and I'm not for amnesty," Perry said.

In fact, the DREAM act before Congress is far more expansive than the legislation that Perry signed. Both bills are aimed at the most innocent victims of illegal immigration: students who were brought into the country illegally as children by their parents.

The federal legislation, which has fallen short of the votes needed for passage several times in Congress, would allow young people brought to the United States illegally before the age of 15 a chance at citizenship provided they have no criminal record and have earned at least a high school degree. 

In contrast, the so-called Texas Dream Act that Perry signed is limited to college tuition breaks: It would provide in-state tuition rates to students who are residents of the state but who lack legal status. Perry staunchly defended his position over boos at a debate last week in Tampa co-sponsored by the Tea Party Express.

"If you've been in the state of Texas for three years, if you're working toward your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there," the governor said at the debate. "It doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is, that's the American way."

Romney, who signed a health care bill that President Obama has cited as the model for his controversial health care legislation, has argued that requiring Massachusetts citizens to purchase health insurance was an appropriate solution for the Bay State but is not workable nationwide.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.