Perry Courts Radical Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Continues Rightward Move on Immigration

During his time as the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry has staked out one of the most reasonable and moderate positions on immigration reform in the entire Republican Party. He signed the Texas version of the DREAM Act, guaranteeing graduates of Texas high schools in-state tuition at Texas universities regardless of their immigration status. He has indicated support for a path to citizenship and criticized the idea of building a border fence.

Perry even criticized Senate Bill 1070, the radical Arizona immigration bill that incensed immigration advocates and is currently facing legal challenges from the Justice Dept. “That’s not the right direction for Texas,” Perry said at the time. But yesterday, the bill’s biggest proponent, Maricopa Co. (AZ) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, tweeted that Perry had personally called him to talk immigration, a move that highlights Perry’s slow and steady lurch right on immigration issues since he launched his presidential campaign:

Just received phone call at my house from Tx. Gov. Rick Perry. Had a great conversation especially about immigration and other matters.

Since joining the race, Perry has walked back the elements of his immigration platform that are most controversial on the right in an apparent effort to dampen or avoid criticism from right-wing anti-immigration hawks like Arpaio.

Perry has long stood by his support for the Texas DREAM Act and continued to do so early in his presidential campaign, making arguments that sounded similar to President Obama’s. But on The Mark Levin Show last week, Perry said he thought the federal DREAM Act was “nothing more than amnesty,” saying he was “absolutely against” the federal version, couching his support for the Texas bill by saying, as is his wont on controversial topics, “It ought to be a state by state issue.”

Earlier this year, Perry indicated that if the U.S. achieved border security, he could envision a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already here. But at an August event in New Hampshire, Perry changed his mind, saying, “You gotta come up with a way that clearly stays away from this issue of making individuals legal citizens of the United States if they haven’t gone through the proper process.”

Perry isn’t the first Republican to move right on immigration in an effort to appeal to anti-immigration conservatives. In 2010, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who had been the party’s foremost supporter of immigration reform during the Bush administration, ran to the right to support completing the “danged fence” in order to appeal to conservative primary voters. Perry’s stance on immigration was perhaps the only moderate stance he holds, and it appears to be fading fast.