To ominous background music, a video posted online by Mitt Romney’s campaign opens with a narrator asking, "Who supports Gov. (Rick) Perry’s decision to give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants?"
Next, photographs of President Barack Obama, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada appear onscreen, one after the other. That’s followed by a November 2003 video clip of Vicente Fox, Mexico’s president at the time, thanking Perry for Texas’ 2001 law enabling some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities. Fox’s thanks, which were videotaped by C-SPAN, were offered during a visit to Austin.
That moment aside, we wondered if Romney, the former Massachusetts governor vying with Perry and others for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, was correct in saying that the three Democratic leaders support Perry’s action.
This fall, Romney and other candidates have hammered Perry for the Texas law, which Perry has defended as giving solid students opportunities not to be drags on society. Also, Perry has accurately noted that the proposal cleared the Texas House and Senate with minimal opposition.
Under the Texas law, undocumented immigrants with a Texas high school diploma or GED who have lived in Texas for at least three years can qualify for in-state tuition if they sign an affidavit saying they intend to apply for permanent residency as soon as they can.
We asked Romney’s campaign staff for backup on the Sept. 29, 2011, video’s claims. Spokesman Ryan Williams pointed us to news stories and government web pages showing Obama, Pelosi and Reid backing versions of the proposed federal DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, if they attend college or serve in the military.
We’ll explore the DREAM Act aspect in a moment.
First, we wondered whether any of the Democratic leaders have spoken explicitly about the Texas law.
Romney’s material offered nothing specific about that, though it noted that as a member of the Illinois Senate, Obama co-sponsored legislation to allow undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. That measure became law in 2003.
Like the Texas law, the Illinois act requires benefiting students to have a high school diploma or GED from an institution in the state and to sign affidavits swearing to apply for permanent legal residency. Texas requires students to have lived in the state for three years prior to receiving a diploma/GED while Illinois requires that the students attended school in-state for the three years before they received a diploma/GED.
According to legislative records, Obama was one of 26 senators listed as co-sponsors of the proposal. He does not appear to have been a key advocate; none of 40 news items that we found published on the measure in 2002-03 mentions him.
In interviews and by email, aides for Pelosi, Reid and Obama each said their boss had not spoken about the Texas law.
We found no news accounts showing otherwise. More broadly, news reports yielded no flat endorsements by the Democratic leaders of state laws allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, yet also no indications that any of the three object.
During a 2007 visit to Arizona, Pelosi made what the Arizona Republic described as a "reference to the effect of" a state law barring illegal immigrants from getting in-state tuition rates.
The paper’s Feb. 20, 2007, news story says Pelosi described meeting a prospective student who could not prove she was a legal U.S. resident and then said: "Our country does not benefit by our depriving young people of an education."
Her comment, though, falls short of calling for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
Asked to clarify Obama’s position on in-state tuition laws, White House spokesman Adam Abrams told us that he has not weighed in on the issue as president.
However, Obama recently voiced a sentiment similar to Pelosi’s: Speaking in support of the DREAM Act during a May 10, 2011, address in El Paso, Obama said that "we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents. We should stop denying them the chance to earn an education."
Reid has used similar words. Romney’s campaign cites a 2007 example in which MSNBC quotes Reid arguing for the DREAM Act: "Children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents."
But does the Democrats’ support for the DREAM Act — confirmed by their spokesmen — back up Romney’s claim?
Most DREAM Act versions, including those pending before the U.S. House and Senate, would repeal a 1996 federal provision that some people interpret as a ban on states allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition rates unless everyone legally in the U.S. can get the same benefit. The provision says: "An alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a state (or a political subdivision) for any post-secondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident."
Obama once co-sponsored a measure like the Texas tuition law, giving Romney’s claim a thread of truth. However, none of the Democrats has aired support for Perry’s decision to sign his state’s proposal into law, which is the essence of the claim. We rate Romney’s statement Mostly False.