Rick Perry's letter earlier this month to DHS Secretary Napolitano demanding $349 million in compensation for having to house illegal-alien criminals is, I'm afraid, a political stunt — basically, shooting a coyote to distract attention from his bad immigration track record. And there's a lot to distract attention from:
- Perry supports amnesty for the illegal-alien population, wanting to relabel them "temporary" workers, while playing the same semantic game as other amnesty supporters in denying that his amnesty is an amnesty.
- Ten years ago he signed into law a measure offering taxpayer-funded in-state tuition subsidies for illegal aliens attending state universities (something he still supports).
- He opposes the use of E-Verify even in hiring for state agencies. When challenged last year in a gubernatorial debate, he replied "E-Verify would not make a hill of beans' difference when it comes to what’s happening in America today."
- He opposes fencing on the border, creating a false choice between fencing and personnel; as he said in his third inaugural speech: "We must secure the border with manpower, not unmanned walls."
None of this is to say Perry's uniquely bad on immigration; he talks a good game about border enforcement and has supported tougher action against sanctuary cities and illegal-alien-hiring employers. But his immigration views put him in about the same place as Romney and Huntsman, all of whom have a Numbers USA grade of D-minus. (Regrettably, that's the middle of the middle of the pack for current candidates; see the Numbers USA grid on the presidential candidates here, and click through for details.)
Bachmann is much better on immigration, but since she's not going to be the nominee, it looks like it's going to be Perry vs. Romney for the coming year; but given their largely indistinguishable immigration views, that could mean there won't be much substantive debate over the issue in the primaries. Instead, we'll have a lot of phony posturing like this demand for compensation (or Perry's call for using Predator drones on the border, like that's going to solve anything).
The flip side is that neither Perry nor Romney seem to have strong views on immigration, their positions apparently driven by a desire to curry favor with big campaign contributors or the Mexican government. This is in contrast to Bush, who actually believed all his immigration baloney, and that contrast is a good thing, because a craven pol with his finger in the wind is much easier to sway with political pressure than a true believer.
So, assuming the GOP candidate wins in November, immigration hawks will still face an opponent in the White House, but at least one who's not quite as dug in and committed as previous occupants.