Former Texas governor Rick Perry announced his bid for the Republican presidential candidacy last week. His immigration rhetoric in the past several years has been one that focuses more on border enforcement than providing legal status to the currently undocumented population in the U.S.—a solution an overwhelming majority of Americans now support. However, Perry also signed the first state law in the country to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants in 2001 and has recently said the U.S. can’t deport 11 million people.

In a recent interview on Fox, Perry vowed, if elected, to secure the border as one of his first presidential actions before a debate on immigration reform can begin. He went on to enumerate the specifics of such a strategy:

“Put the personnel on the border, the strategic fencing in place, the aviation assets—so that, that 1800 mile border, from Tijuana to El Paso, from El Paso to Brownsville, is secure and the American people will know that it is secure.”

Only after these actions, Perry continued, can Americans “have a conversation about how immigration reform needs to be conducted and what have you.”

Perry hasn’t been shy to deploy troops to the border during his terms as governor. Last summer, when thousands of Central American children and families fleeing violence arrived at the U.S. border many states and cities welcomed them into their communities, providing basic humanitarian support. But Perry chose a military response to this humanitarian challenge by sending approximately 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, noting “our citizens are under assault.” Initial reports estimated that this move cost Texas over $12 million per month.

Trying to enforce our way out of our immigration problems is no solution. Since 1986, the federal government has spent an estimated $186.8 billion on immigration enforcement. Yet during that time, the unauthorized population has tripled in size to 11 million. This is not due to a lack of enforcement, but rather a testament to the powerful demand the U.S. economy has for workers, as well as the similarly powerful desire for families to unite across borders.

Perry’s strict border policies, historically, have been proven not to reap their intended benefits and actually encourage lawlessness as undocumented immigrants entrust their lives to criminal cartels who traffic people into the United States. “Coyotes” prey on vulnerable immigrants and present a humanitarian crisis that militarization of the border is exacerbating.

Also, ahead of the announcement of the President’s executive action on immigration, Perry anticipated Texas’ plans to sue to the Administration in order to stop it.

While Perry has been a hawk on immigration in many ways, his comments at times indicate a different view. Perry recently said in New Hampshire that the removal of 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States in unrealistic, “I don’t think anyone with a sense of reality thinks that we’re going to ship 11 or 12 million people back to where they’re from.”

Also, in 2001, Perry signed the Texas DREAM Act into law –which was the first measure enacted in a state to provide undocumented immigrants with in-state tuition at state colleges. That same year, however, Perry vetoed a bill that would have authorized undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses, citing his concern that the bill didn’t provide resources to sufficiently vet potential candidates and verify birth foreign birth certificates.

Perry has shown himself hard to pin down on what his philosophy is around immigration policy. Perhaps over the next several months as the campaign continues, he can devise a more solid platform and clearly explain what a Perry Administration would do on immigration policy.

Photo by Michael Vadon.