by Sarah Rumpf 26 Sep 2014, 5:27 AM PDT

AUSTIN, Texas -- Last weekend, Texas Governor Rick Perry defended his support for a 2001 bill that granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants for Texas colleges and universities. As reported by Breitbart Texas, in a keynote conversation at The Texas Tribune Festival, Perry was asked directly by Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith if he now believed the bill should be overturned, and Perry answered "No," also commenting, "I still think in 2001 it was the right thing to do in the state of Texas."

After Perry's remarks hit the news, public reaction was swift. Breitbart Texas' article on the issue generated hundreds of comments within hours, many of them highly critical.

While the law in question, HB 1403, passed the 2001 legislature overwhelmingly with only four dissenting votes, it was a major source of criticism against Perry during the 2012 Republican presidential primary, most notably during a September 2011 debate in Orlando, when Perry responded to his critics by infamously saying that "I don't think you have a heart" for not supporting this bill.

A Florida Republican who attended the September 2011 Orlando debate but did not wish to be named shared with Breitbart Texas how Perry's comment derailed his support among the Republican activists in the audience: "When Perry made that comment, it sucked the air out of the room, and the mood changed. I was honestly willing to give him a chance, until then. I felt like he was talking down to us. If every time you have a policy disagreement, you're going to call us heartless, that's what Democrats do."

[Note: the author of this article also attended that Orlando debate in person, and witnessed how the mood shifted after Perry's answer on this issue. The issue of in-state tuition was of similar importance to Floridians as it is to Texans, and Perry's answer was immediately met with boos, and then grumbling in the audience as attendees reacted to his comments. Audience members were seen putting down Perry signs on the floor and removing Perry stickers from their shirts and bags after his comment.]

Back in Texas, HB 1403 again became an issue during several of this year's Republican primary contests for statewide elected offices. For example, during the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor, State Senator Dan Patrick criticized Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples over the bill. Staples, who had been a State Senator at the time, voted in favor of HB 1403 along with all but three of his colleagues in the State Senate. Staples' campaign released a video excerpt where he called for the bill's repeal, saying "the bill that created in-state tuition was predicated on the assumption that those students would correct their [immigration] status. That has not been enforced, and it should be repealed."

The strong opinions held by grassroots conservatives have not faded regarding in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students. JoAnn Fleming, the Executive Director of Grassroots America, told Breitbart Texas that her organization remains "strongly opposed" to this bill that "rewards law-breakers while handing taxpayers the bill." Fleming vowed that Grassroots America would work very hard to repeal it during the 2015 legislative session, adding that it would be marked as a key record vote in their scoring system.

"Governor Perry's continued support for in-state tuition breaks for those here illegally is completely out-of-step with a majority of Texans," said Fleming. "This is yet another example of how the rule of law has been degraded and devalued by politicians with lofty, politically-correct good intentions. These good intentions have produced social service and welfare magnets that put a big 'welcome mat' down at a wide-open, costly and dangerous border. The social safety net is bursting, [and this law] is a slap in the face to those who enter legally and a disincentive to obey the law."

Alice Linahan, Vice President of Women on the Wall, opined that this was a political risky position for Perry. "I believe it was his support of in-state tuition that cost him the Presidential run in 2012 and will be the same in 2016," she told Breitbart Texas. "The reality of this policy of creating a magnet for illegal children is becoming more and more clear today as Texas faces an invasion of our southern border and Texas children and their teachers are being exposed to dangerous situations in their public schools."

The debate over granting in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants is one issue that has left many grassroots activists skeptical of Perry's comments on border security. Dale Huls, Friendswood resident and board member of the Clear Lake TEA Party, told Breitbart Texas that he was "not surprised" that Perry continued to support this bill. "His 'act tough on the border' stance and his compassion for illegal alien kids are just a part of his political gamesmanship," said Huls. "On the one hand, Perry seeks to close the border with the DPS and the Texas National Guard and, on the other hand, he continues to support a magnet that rewards migrant families if they can make it to Texas without being brutalized, raped or murdered by human smugglers along the way."

Richard Viguerie, the Chairman of who pioneered the use of direct mail fundraising in conservative politics, has long been a staunch advocate for grassroots conservative activism, and was sharply critical of Perry's continued support for this bill.

“Governor Perry is like the little girl in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s nursery rhyme, 'When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.'" wrote Viguerie in an email to Breitbart Texas. "Lately, conservatives have been seeing the horrid Governor Perry, including hiring two enemies of the conservative movement [Henry Barbour and Steve Schmidt] and now re-enforcing his support of in-state college tuition for illegal aliens which, of course, encourages more illegal aliens.”

Breitbart Texas reached out to Governor Perry's press office for further comment or clarification on this topic, and Perry's press secretary, Lucy Nashed, responded, "I think the Governor's comments speak for themselves on this."

Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this story as new developments occur.