Rick Perry, Superman and Immigration

By Andrew Simpson 09-19-2011

Rick Perry was recently asked by a nine-year-old "If you were a super hero, what kind of super hero would you be?" His answer to the child's benign question was simultaneously predictable and profound: Superman.

One well-known internet blogger took to YouTube to explain the irony of the presidential hopeful's response. Check it out:

Or view it on YouTube directly HERE.

The truth of the matter is that Rick Perry's record on immigration as governor of Texas is quite nuanced and not what some might expect from a staunch conservative presidential candidate. Perry has been reminding all of us lately that his state experienced significant economic growth over the course of his 11-year tenure as governor.

What he might not be so quick to mention is that undocumented immigrants had a large hand in creating that growth. In fact, it is estimated that immigrants contribute as much as $17.7 billion to the state's annual GDP and bring in millions more in state revenues than they cost the state in services.

Early in his governorship, Rick Perry recognized the invaluable contribution that immigrants made to his state by overseeing the passage of a bill, similar to the DREAM Act, which offered in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants in Texas. He was known as a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform which would couple enforcement efforts with pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

However, fast-forward ten years and presidential contender Rick Perry is quickly trying to trade in his moderate stance on immigration for a narrative that caters to his party's anti-immigrant right wing. We have heard his tone change drastically from one of "comprehensive solutions" to one that mirrors the enforcement-only language of the Tea Party.

And in an unprecedented move for the governor, Rick Perry convened an emergency session of the Texas legislature this year in an attempt pass legislation banning "sanctuary cities" in the state; effectively allowing police officers to act as immigration agents. The legislation, deemed "easily the most anti-Latino agenda in more than a generation" by San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, failed to pass, despite Perry's support.

Such efforts to position himself as tough on immigration have come up short for the anti-immigrant hardliners of his party. Numbers USA, an organization created to reduce immigration, recently graded Governor Perry's immigration record a "D-" on the reasoning that, among other things, his stance on amnesty was "unclear."

So, with the presidential election quickly approaching, it appears that Rick Perry has a choice to make: will he be Clark Kent, the quaint and anonymous civilian who simply champions the status quo, or will he truly live up to the legacy of Clark Kent's alter-ego, Superman? Because last I checked, Superman used his power to protect the weak and marginalized.

And that's exactly the kind of hero the immigrant community needs right now.

Andrew Simpson was the former immigration associate for Sojourners. He is from Chapel Hill, N.C.

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