Illegal immigration is, of course, a core issue among conservatives, who continue to reject any plan that allows existing illegal immigrants to become citizens as part of comprehensive immigration reform. In Texas, Perry has taken a number of positions on the issue at the state level that have ruffled feathers on the national anti-illegal immigrant right -- including advocating for and signing a Texas version of the DREAM Act.
He opposes the national DREAM Act debated in the last Congress.
But in South Carolina Saturday, he said he supported a main tenet of that bill -- that illegal immigrants can earn their citizenship by serving honorably in the military.
"I think there is a path to citizenship for those young men and women who have served their country," Perry said in response to a question from NachoFiesta blogger Sean Quinn. "That is a very unique set of individuals, and different than folks who have come here illegally and not given back in that particular way."
But on other controversial immigration laws, Perry said the states should be able to do what they wish.
"I am a big believer in the 10th Amendment," Perry said. He said "state by state, they need to make those decisions" about charging illegal immigrants in-state college tuition prices (as Perry has advocated in Texas) or passing laws like Arizona's SB 1070.
"I happen to believe with all my heart that the states would be best served by being able to be free to make these decisions themselves," Perry said. "I didn't think that for the state of Texas and Arizona-exact law was right for the state of Texas. I didn't want to make our law enforcement officers federal immigration officers. So, state by state ought to be the way to do that, not by the federal government making one size fits all."
But Perry said the federal government needs to lead the way in some areas of immigration, such as a national reform package.
"Once we secure the border, we can have a conversation about immigration reform in this country, but not until," he said. "You must have the federal government putting the resources, the boots on the ground, the aviation assets in the air, and secure that border so that we know that the border is secure before we have a conversation about any immigration reform."
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