To quote an old proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” 

On that basis, Texas Governor Rick Perry may be Latinos' best friend among the current GOP aspirants for the White House, the lone Republican in the race with a chance to win a significant percentage of Latino votes in the 2012 presidential election.

It is a key constituency, two-thirds of which voted for Barack Obama in 2008, making the crucial difference in battleground states like Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Florida, among others. And because there are more of us now, upward of 22 million eligible voters, Latinos this time around could be even more decisive.

So who is the common enemy? It’s the folks represented by Tom Tancredo, the nation’s shrillest anti-immigration zealot.

The bomb-throwing former Colorado congressman – who now runs Team America, the USA’s most virulently anti-immigration PAC – believes Governor Perry “is not a true conservative” because of Perry’s relatively moderate position on immigration-related issues like the DREAM Act.  

Perry supports “completely open borders,” blustered Tancredo in a fiery opinion piece in Politico – which is not true, but then Tancredo never lets facts get in the way of a good diatribe.

What is true, is that Governor Perry has proven to be sensitive to Latino concerns in the Lone Star State. For example, he ushered through a Texas state law allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges. That’s an important component of the stalled federal DREAM Act. His rationale was reason and fairness. 

“To punish these young Texans for their parents’ actions is not what America has always been about,” Perry recently told the New Hampshire Union Leader.

And while he has called for more “boots on the ground” at the border to curtail illegal immigration, Perry has also made statements ridiculing the hugely expensive, largely ineffective border fence. He has advocated for 24-month visas for the traditional cross-border work force that for generations freely ebbed and flowed in sync with the demand for labor in the farms, factories, and fields of the United States.

“The free flow of individuals between these two countries who want to work and want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico,” he promoted.  

Perry has called for closer commercial ties with our neighbors south of the border, has has criticized the federal E-Verify program, which requires all workers to be computer-checked as legal residents, and has condemned Arizona’s SB 1070 “Papers Please,” anti-immigration law currently stalled in the federal courts.

Granted, these positions do not mitigate some of Perry’s crazier ideas, like when he suggested that prosperous, well-run Texas might consider seceding from the bankrupt union, or his thinly-veiled threat to do something “ugly” to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, (tar and feathers? De-panting? Wet Willies?), if he ever comes down Texas-way.

It must also be recalled that many of Perry’s “moderate” positions on immigration were crafted to deal with the realities of Texas politics, where 38 percent of all voters are Latinos, mostly Mexican-American. And that he has largely followed the successful Latino-friendly blueprint established by his Republican predecessor as governor, George W. Bush, who routinely scored 40 percent of the overall Hispanic vote by sounding conciliatory, being openly respectful of Latino concerns, and even attempting to speak Spanish from time to time.

Still, Perry’s record vis-à-vis Latinos isn’t half bad, especially when compared to that of President Obama. Despite owing his job to the Latino voter turnout in 2008, Mr. Obama has not done much to advance the cause of comprehensive immigration reform, and has, by some measures, even escalated deportations. 

No fool, though, and sensing weakness in his appeal to Hispanic voters, the president today announced sweeping and long-overdue rules to dramatically ease up on deportations for non-criminal immigrants. But if Perry gets the nod the president will face a challenge for the hearts and votes of America's Latinos.

“It’s no stretch to suggest the future of Texas is tied directly to the future of our Hispanic population,” Perry told the annual convention of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials back in June 2011 in San Antonio. 

In my most recent book, “The Great Progression,” I made the same point about the future of our entire country.

But running for governor in a heavily-Latino state is different than running for the GOP presidential nomination in the era of the Tea Party. So the governor has also signaled that he is veering rightward on the issue of immigration reform as Candidate Perry. 

He made a point in announcing his run for the White House to advocate greater security along the U.S.-Mexico border. He also attempted unsuccessfully to jam through “emergency” state legislation outlawing “sanctuary cities” in Texas, where undocumented immigrants number between one and a half and two million.

For Latinos concerned about the toxic, enforcement-only atmosphere concerning the immigration debate, the key going forward will be whether Perry remains true to his conciliatory Texas roots, or just joins the pack railing against “amnesty,” “sanctuary cities” and blaming “illegal aliens” for everything that ails us.  

Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino. 

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