Rick Perry: "Aliens" Still Not Eligible for Public Benefits In Texas

It's a pretty basic equation: When the Obama administration does something, Governor Rick Perry's against it. When at all possible, his administration will refuse to implement in Texas whatever policy change the feds have made. Expanding Medicaid? He's not going to do it here, no matter how many millions of uninsured people we have. Feds ban the implementation of the state's voter ID law, pointing out that it violates the Voting Rights Act? Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sues them in federal court.

For the most part, lawsuits have been Perry and company's favored strategy against Obama. As Abbott famously put it at a GOP convention: "My job is pretty simple. I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home."

But what exactly can Perry and Abbott do about deferred action? The executive order allows undocumented immigrants brought here as children to apply for citizenship work permits, avoiding deportation for up to two years. It's entirely a federal matter.

But that hasn't deterred Perry from sending Abbott a public letter about "aliens" and all the benefits they will still not be receiving in Texas.

Referring to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, he wrote in the August 16 missive: "I have previously expressed my position that the secretary was wrong to unilaterally undermine the law through a policy statement issued under the cover of so-called 'prosecutorial discretion.' I believe her actions were a slap in the face to the rule of law and our Constitutional framework of separated powers."

Perry adds that the deferred action order "do[es] not change our obligations under federal and Texas law to determine a person's eligibility for state and local public benefits. Federal law prohibits conferring such benefits to most unlawfully present aliens, absent a state law to the contrary."

Pledging to make life difficult for deferred action participants is popular among a certain set of Republican governors right now. A few days ago, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer ordered that they be prohibited from getting driver's licenses in the state . Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman vowed to do the same a few days later.

Perry's actions are in contrast to his (relatively) humane past stance on illegal immigration, especially during last year's Republican primaries. Like George W. Bush before him, Perry, along with the governors of other border states, has had to appear somewhat unbigoted in order to have a chance with their many Latino voters. That didn't serve him well while running for president: He was criticized during a Florida debate, for example, for signing a 2001 law granting in-state tuition to undocumented students.

"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own," Perry replied, "I don't think you have a heart."

Texas still allows undocumented students access to in-state tuition, and Perry hasn't yet said anything about denying licenses to deferred action participants. But nor has he uttered another word about "heart."

Rick Perry Deferred Action Letter to Greg Abbott

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan