12/23/2010 02:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue To GOP: Avoid 'Gang-Type Mentality' On Immigration

Outgoing Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue recently issued some parting advice to his fellow Republicans: Tread carefully on the issue of immigration and don't succumb to a "gang-type mentality" when it comes to who's allowed to stay on American soil.

From an interview with the Associated Press:

Perdue said his party needs to avoid "a gang-type mentality" that could be harmful to those "who want the American dream."

"The Republican Party needs to be very, very careful that it maintains the golden rule in its rhetoric regarding immigration policy," Perdue told The AP.

Perdue said the GOP needs to ensure that "people of color and people who are not U.S.-born" feel welcome. "And I think that's the challenge of the Republican Party."

Controversy over immigration policy is nothing new to Perdue. In 2006, he signed the Security and Immigration Compliance Act, benchmark legislation that enacted some of the nation's most stringent immigration enforcement measures.

After the bill's passage Time reported:

It includes provisions requiring residents who are seeking state social welfare benefits to prove their legal status, as well as mandating that the police check the legal status of everyone they arrest and alert federal authorities to any violations.

The Georgia bill was considered so draconian, in fact, that it quickly sparked a diplomatic war of words. On Tuesday, Mexico's President Vincente Fox declared that Georgia's law included "acts of discrimination" and "half measures insufficient to resolve the complex phenomenon of immigration between Mexico and the United States."

But with the passage of a new Arizona immigration law that has sparked nationwide outrage, as well as animated arguments over its merits and enforcement apparatuses, Perdue might be cooling slightly on his stance, and, in doing so, encouraging Republicans around the country to follow suit.

In June, Perdue drew fire for exempting an undocumented immigrant from his own law and allowing her to finish college despite the knowledge that she was in the United States illegally.

"(Immigration) is a very emotive, emotion-filled topic that I think sometimes gets us out there where our hearts really aren't," Perdue told the Associated Press in the interview.

Perdue's stance comes as his successor, Nathan Deal, prepares to take office. Deal campaigned on a tough immigration platform, positioning himself an outspoken supporter of Arizona's SB1070 and vowing to implement similar legislation in Georgia. The incoming Georgia governor was also one of the first national lawmakers to publicly announce his support for removing the "birthright citizenship" clause of the 14th Amendment, saying in 2009 that it was part of the "immigration problem."

ThinkProgress points out that Perdue's personal softening on the issue may be a sign that, as the population in his state shifts, he is simply reading the tea leaves:

Perdue is likely concerned about the fact that the foreign-born share of Georgia's population rose from 2.7 percent in 1990 to 9.4 percent in 2008. Almost 35 percent of those immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens who can vote. The new census data shows that, in Georgia, the share of the Latino population has grown by nearly 50 percent since 2000. It may have not been enough to stop someone like Deal from taking office; however, in a close election their voting power could tip the scale.