Gov. Perry Hypes Anti-Immigrant Sheriff's Endorsement To Bolster Right-Wing Immigration Cred

December 01, 2011 5:37 pm ET — Brian Powell

The immigration debate within the Republican Party's conservative base continues to lurch further and further to the right. In the current environment, any proposal that falls short of rounding up every undocumented immigrant and shipping them across the border exposes its proponent to attacks from the far-right.

Nothing illustrates the sharp turn of the party's base like the baffling immigration philosophies of Texas governor and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Perry (R), who recently suggested that people favoring harsh policies toward illegal immigrants "don't have a heart," but is now belittling any discussion about crafting a comprehensive immigration plan. Perry is compounding this absurdity by touting the recent endorsement of his candidacy by Maricopa County (AZ) sheriff and anti-immigrant reality show star Joe Arpaio (R). He appeared Thursday on Fox News' America Live with host Megyn Kelly:

PERRY: Well obviously, we're talking about securing the border, because that's the issue that has to be addressed first, Megyn. And that's one the reasons Sheriff Arpaio came in and endorsed me yesterday. Sheriff Joe is one of the strongest people in the country when it comes to immigration, and in New Hampshire and Iowa and those early primary states, having someone like him stand up and say 'listen, this is the only person who's actually had the experience of dealing with putting that border issue, uh, secure the border with boots on the ground, the aviation assets.' He knows that I've been dealing with it for ten years.

And so, until we get the border secure, all of these conversations about how we're going to deal with the 11 plus million people that are here, is just that — an intellectual engagement, it's a conversation. Everyone understands that you've got to secure that border first. And I'm the only person that has the experience, of the people running on the Republican side, of securing the border. And we have a president who says the border is safer than it's ever been, and we all know that is absolutely nonsense; Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iranians — all using that border to penetrate into America.


Presidential candidates often receive unseemly or unwanted endorsements from controversial public figures. But it says something about the state of the immigration debate and about Perry's judgment that he is enthusiastically hyping an endorsement from a cartoonish figure who forces inmates to sleep in tents, engages in racial profiling and once responded to allegations of racism by saying, "My daughter has adopted children of various ethnicities. I got a black, a Mexican with down syndrome even. And yet I'm the racist."

Substantively, Perry's stance on immigration remains obtuse. He begrudgingly admits to Kelly that rounding up 11 million undocumented immigrants for deportation is not realistic, but refuses to back down from his previous statement that, as president, he would "detain and deport every illegal alien who is apprehended in this country." Only deporting immigrants who are "apprehended" would allow undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding, immigrants to remain in the country — in other words, it's a plan similar to Gingrich's, which Perry nonetheless attempted to poison with the label of "amnesty."