(CNN) - After almost a week’s worth of backlash, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his word choice “inappropriate” Wednesday after saying fellow conservatives 'have no heart' for disagreeing with a Texas law allowing illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at public universities.
"I probably chose a poor word to explain that for people who don't want their state to be giving tuition to illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, in this country, that's their call, and I respect that," Perry said in an on-camera interview with Newsmax. "And I was probably a bit over-passionate in using that word, and it was inappropriate. But here's what I do believe: it's a state's sovereign right to decide that issue for themselves."
At a debate on Fox News last Thursday, Perry defended a law he passed as Texas governor that allowed children of illegal immigrants to be eligible for in-state tuition at Texas universities.
"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said. "We need to be educating these children because they will become a drag on our society."
Perry faced immediate criticism from conservatives after the comment, who slammed the governor for not holding a stronger position against illegal immigration. He also received strong criticism from his closest competitor in the Republican race, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said the immigration issue was a matter of the brain, not the heart.
In the interview with Newsmax, Perry continued to defend the law, saying it was a policy that made sense in Texas and which enjoyed overwhelming support in the state legislature.
"It wasn't about immigration, it was about education," Perry said. "The bigger issue is the federal government has failed in its responsibility to secure borders."