At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando today, Mitt Romney responded to Rick Perry’s intellectually lazy argument for the Texas DREAM Act with an easy quip.

The former Massachusetts governor responded to Perry’s assertion during Thursday’s GOP presidential debate that those who disagree with providing in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants lack a heart.

“My friend Gov. Perry said if you don’t agree with his position on giving that in-state tuition to illegals, that you don’t have a heart,” Romney said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando. “I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart. It means that you have a heart and a brain.”

Perry passed a state-based DREAM Act in Texas, which allowed children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates, a decision he defended Thursday.

Perry’s best defense of his in-state-tuition-for-illegals law is to remind voters that it was a state-level decision, implemented in a state that has to tackle the practical fallout from illegal immigration in a way a state like Massachusetts simply doesn’t. (As a reminder, Texas has ten times the number of illegals as Massachusetts.) Texas DREAM primarily affected the state budget of Texas and Texas taxpayers — and, presumably, Texan voters supported it at least indirectly by electing a state legislature that passed it. Offering in-state tuition doesn’t explicitly erode the rule of law as, say, amnesty for illegals would. If a state wanted to offer in-state tuition to international students, it could. If  a state wanted to offer a flat tuition rate to all students,  it could. Yes, as Rick Santorum pointed out last night, in-state tuition does nothing to discourage illegal immigration — but that’s not what such a law is designed to do in the first place. It’s designed to incentivize college enrollment (and, presumably, graduation). Whether that’s advisable is certainly debatable, but Perry’s support for Texas DREAM need not cost him the support of those who are strongly opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants or who strongly support — as Perry puts it — “more boots on the ground” to secure our borders. In other words, Perry should reassure voters he’s not squishy on border security nor does he favor amnesty for illegals — and deflect attention from the Texas DREAM Act as much as possible, not call attention to it with self-righteous pronouncements.