Texas Gov. and GOP presidential contender Rick Perry says he regrets having said that opponents of in-state tuition for undocumented students are heartless.
But he reaffirms his support for letting undocumented youth attend public colleges at the same tuition rates as other residents of Texas.
In an interview with Newsmax.com, Perry, who has been viewed as the front-runner in the race to be the GOP challenger to President Barack Obama in the 2010 election, said: “I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word and it was inappropriate.”
Perry expressed the controversial criticism of opponents of in-state tuition for undocumented youth during the Republican presidential debate that was held in Orlando, Florida on Sept. 22.
His comment, which drew boos from the audience at the debate, was: “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
In the interview with Newsmax.com, Perry said: “For people who don’t want their state to be giving tuition to illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, that’s their call and I respect that.”
He did not back away, however, from his support for letting undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition rates.
“It is a state’s soveign right to decide that issue for themselves,” he said. “In Texas in 2001, we had 181 – 181 --members of the legislature, only four voted against this piece of legislation, because it wasn’t about immigration, it was about education.”
Perry said the more pressing issue is that “the federal government has failed in it constitutional duty to secure our borders.”
“We wouldn’t be having these conversations today -- whether it was about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants or whether it was the Arizona law or the voter ID, which pass in Texas, or santcuary cities and the banning of those, which we tried to do in Texas – none of those would come up if the federal government had simply done its job through the years to secure our borders.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the most vocal opponent of the GOP contenders of Perry’s “heart” comment, said that Perry’s retreat from the “heart” comment was insufficient.
Romney had said that opposing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants “doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart; it means that you have a heart and a brain.”
Romney said that Perry’s continued support of in-state tuition was misguided support for lawbreakers.
Supporters of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants say that people who were brought here illegally as children should not be penalized for the decisions of their parents.
But those who want strict enforcement against the undocumented say giving breaks to anyone who is here unlawfully undermines the nation’s immigration laws
Follow Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter: @LlorenteLatino
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.