(Mark Wilson/Getty Images )
Reporting from Orlando, Fla. — Mitt Romney whacked Rick Perry again on the hot-button issue of immigration Friday morning, telling a "tea party" audience that the Texas governor’s support for tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants was essentially brain-dead.
Rep. Michele Bachmann joined in the attack, as Perry’s rivals picked up where they left off in Thursday night’s GOP debate.
Perry is under fire for signing into law a state program that offers in-state tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants in Texas higher education. In the debate, Perry dug in his heels and defended the program in the strongest terms yet.
“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. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society,” the GOP front-runner said.
Referring to that remark, Romney said that “one of the things I still can’t get over is the idea that a state would decide to give $100,000 discounts for the children of illegals to go to school in their state.”
Taking direct aim at “my friend, Governor Perry,” Romney took issue with the Texan’s statement that “you don’t have a heart . . .if you’re opposed to illegal immigration.
“Uh,” Romney continued, glancing down at a page of notes, “I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart. It means that you have a heart and a brain.”
The remark drew applause from hundreds of conservative activists from Florida, meeting in the same building – the Orange County Convention Center—where the Fox News/Google debate was held.
Romney also reiterated his support for a more extensive physical barrier along the U.S-Mexico line, a position that Perry, a pragmatic border-state governor, opposes. “You’ve got to have a fence,” said the former Massachusetts governor.
Bachmann, who preceded Romney, told the crowd, to applause, that, “as president of the United States, I will build a fence on our southern border against illegal immigration, and we will not have taxpayer-subsidized benefits for illegal immigrants or for their children. “
Perry is to address the conference Friday afternoon.