PERRY, Iowa – Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a long-shot Republican presidential contender, signed a pledge Saturday to push for construction of a fence along the entire length of the border with Mexico, raising the issue of illegal immigration in an Iowa town where about one third of the residents are Hispanic.
Bachmann also renewed her attacks on the immigration policies of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, one of her rivals for the Republican nomination, and she criticized President Barack Obama for what she called his failure to control the border.
"President Obama has failed the American people by failing to secure the southern border," said Bachmann. "I will secure that border and that will be job one."
Bachmann's call for increased border security was made in a town where the meatpacking industry has drawn immigrant workers. Thirty-two percent of the town's 9,800 residents are Hispanic.
Van Hipp Jr., head of Americans for Securing Our Border, said Bachmann was the first Republican presidential hopeful to sign the pledge, but he added the group plans to aggressively seek the support of others as well. The document binds Bachmann to support the construction of a double fence along the length of the U.S. border with Mexico by 2013.
"I have been saying this all through the campaign,' Bachmann said. "Now you have my word in writing."
She called control of the border a national security issue and said illegal immigration costs the U.S. more than $100 billion a year. At the same time she rejected suggestions that talking about cracking down on illegal immigrants is racist or anti-Hispanic.
"It's OK to talk about this issue," said Bachmann. "Some say it's not OK to talk about this subject because that somehow means we are prejudiced or bigoted or biased against Hispanics. That's not what I hear form the people of Iowa. They are tired of paying for other people."
Hipp said the pledge was intended to insure that action is taken on the issue. "For too long, too many politicians have given only lip service to the war on our border," he said. "The rule of law has been ignored and the federal government has been derelict in its duty in defending our borders."
Cracking down on illegal immigration has become a major theme in the Republican race, with most of the candidates charging that Perry isn't tough enough on the issue.
Perry has taken a lot of heat for Texas' policy of allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition rates to attend public colleges. Bachmann raised the issue again Saturday. "In 2009 in Texas there were 12,138 students that benefited from that," she said. "That cost the taxpayers of Texas $25.9 million."
Bachmann congratulated Hipp's group for injecting the immigration issue into the campaign, calling it a "wonderful gift."
She said that an alleged Iranian plot to launch a campaign of bombing and assassination in the U.S. would have involved people slipping across the border illegally. "This is not just an economic issue, this is also a national security issue. It's an issue dealing with terrorism."
Bachmann argued that it will be virtually impossible to cut into the nation's jobless rate until illegal immigration is reduced.
Bachmann told reporters she chose the town of Perry for signing the pledge because of its demographics. Asked if she chose Perry because it is the namesake of a leading opponent in the race, she said: "I thought about that too."