By JACK DOUGLAS JR.
DALLAS -- Gov. Rick Perry told members of an influential Hispanic organization on Monday that building a fence down the entire length of the Texas-Mexico border, from El Paso to Brownsville, is "absolutely not the answer" to solving the immigration problem.
Perry's comments before the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce came less than two weeks after he told reporters in Austin that "there is some strategic fencing that we support" and "that you can use strategic fencing to help control the flow of illegal activities."
The governor's speech on Monday, which drew applause from the audience, made no mention of "strategic fencing." Instead, his comments were similar to those he used a few months ago during a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City. At that time, Perry railed against all the "mean rhetoric" and said that border fences "absolutely won't work," according to published reports. Spokesman Robert Black said he sees no contradiction in the comments the governor has made about building a blockade.
"His position on a border wall or border fence has never changed," Black said. "The governor has always said a fence or wall the entire length of the Texas-Mexico border is nonsensical and won't work. But strategic fencing in your urban areas is useful and can work."
Antonio Gil Morales, an opponent of any sort of border wall and the commander of the American GI Forum, an advocacy group for Hispanic war veterans, suggested that Perry's comments were tailored to his audience.
"Everybody's trying to play the middle road without [upsetting] anybody," said Morales, of Fort Worth.
Perry told the Hispanic chamber that the way to deal with immigration is through better coordination among local, state and federal authorities, using available technology. Officials, he said, should "be wise about how we secure our borders."
Perry called Mexico a "good neighbor" but added that criminals see the border as an "easy entryway to our prosperous state, a curtain to hide behind."
"We must not compromise our safety and security while ensuring a free flow of commerce," he said, adding, "We want to make sure that the good guys get in and the bad guys stay out."