Rick Perry’s complicated relationship with Latinos

In his gubernatorial campaigns, Perry, who speaks moderate Spanish, frequently traveled to Hispanic neighborhoods. Last November, he won a third term with about 38% of the Latino vote, up from 31% in 2006, according to exit polls. And his record on immigration, a key issue for Latino voters nationwide, is nuanced. Even though three-fourths of Latinos in the U.S. are American citizens, a new spate of severe state laws pursued by Republican legislatures have made the issue a foremost concern. Perry supported making undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition. Shortly after Arizona passed a restrictive measure requiring local law enforcement authorities to check the citizenship status of people believed to be undocumented immigrants, Perry flatly told a gathering of the National Council of La Raza: “It may be right for Arizona, but it ain’t right for Texas.”

In his book, Perry railed against the federal government’s handling of the U.S.-Mexican border. Texas has invested more than a quarter- billion dollars in recent years hiring patrols to tame drug cartels – “terrorists,” Perry called them – while Washington has dispatched barely 300 of 1,200 promised National Guard troops to the state. In June 2010, bullets from a gun battle in Juarez struck El Paso’s city hall. “Border security, unfortunately, has been unnecessarily and inappropriately wrapped up with ‘comprehensive immigration,’” Perry wrote in Fed Up!. And yet he insists that a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border is unnecessary.

This nuanced approach might resonate with Republican immigration hardliners, and some Latinos. “Hispanics on the border are all for security,” says Aaron Pena, a Republican Texas legislator who switched parties last year. “But nearly all of us are against some of the harsher, more draconian aspects of the immigration debate.”