11/07/2011 11:08 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012

Bill Clinton Defends Rick Perry On In-State Tuition For Undocumented Immigrants

Former President Bill Clinton defended Texas Gov. Rick Perry on his signature of a bill allowing Texas undocumented residents to obtain in-state tuition rates, for which his Republican presidential rivals have criticized him.

"It makes my skin crawl when they attack Rick Perry for one of the best things he did," Clinton said of the Republican presidential candidate in an interview with USA Today. "Would they like the kid [an undocumented immigrant] to stand on a corner and sell dope or something?"

Perry defended the bill along similar lines in an October campaign stop in New Hampshire. "In Texas, we made the decision that it was in our best interests as a state, economically and otherwise, to have those young people in our institutions of higher learning and becoming educated as part of our skilled workforce," he said.

The bill allows undocumented immigrants who attended high school in Texas for at least three years to receive in-state tuition at Texas colleges.

He said the alternative was more undocumented immigrants on the "government dole." He added that if other states did not want to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, then that was their choice. Perry frequently points out that only four Texas legislators dissented when he signed the bill in 2001.

In a Sept. 23 debate, Perry said, "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no reason than they've been brought there, by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart." His rivals pounced on his comments, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said in a subsequent debate that the tuition rates were a "magnet to draw illegals into the state."

Perry has since walked back his comment that opponents don't "have a heart," saying several times that his word choice was too strong.

Clinton reveals in his new book, Back To Work, that he was rebuffed by the Democratic National Committee when he wanted to send out a "centralized set of talking points" before the 2010 election, which resulted in huge Democratic losses.

"Vice President Biden...and I tried to get the Democratic National Committee to send out a centralized set of talking points to its large e-mail list so Democratic foot soldiers would at least have some good ammunition for their phone and door-to-door campaigns," he wrote. "We couldn't persuade the decision-makers to do so."

In the interview, Clinton also said he sympathized with the Occupy Wall Street movement but said they needed more of an agenda. "I don't think Americans can continue this level of income inequality," he said.