AUSTIN, Texas -- Arizona's tough new illegal immigration enforcement law would not be right for Texas, Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday, upholding the state's long-held tradition of rejecting harsh anti-immigrant policies.
The Arizona law will require local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally, making it a crime for them to lack registration documents. The law also makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally.
"I fully recognize and support a state's right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas," Perry said in a written statement.
"For example, some aspects of the law turn law enforcement officers into immigration officials by requiring them to determine immigration status during any lawful contact with a suspected alien, taking them away from their existing law enforcement duties, which are critical to keeping citizens safe."
The Arizona law has been hailed by conservatives as long overdue and two Texas lawmakers have said they'll introduce similar immigration measures when the Texas Legislature meets next.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday that a Justice Department review is under way to determine the Arizona law's constitutionality.
Though Texas is ruled by conservative Republicans, top GOP leaders from former Texas Gov. George W. Bush to Perry have rejected harsh and punitive immigration policies.
Bush continued his moderate approach to immigration once he got to the White House, often to the dismay of his conservative base.
"We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals," Bush said in his 2007 State of the Union address. "We need to resolve the status of the immigrants that are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty."
Perry took heat during this year's Republican primary for backing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, saying in a debate that the students are on a path to citizenship.
"Texas has a rich history with Mexico, our largest trading partner, and we share more than 1,200 miles of border, more than any other state," Perry said Thursday. "As the debate on immigration reform intensifies, the focus must remain on border security and the federal government's failure to adequately protect our borders.
"Securing our border is a federal responsibility, but it is a Texas problem, and it must be addressed before comprehensive immigration reform is discussed."