Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) - A stringent opponent of illegal immigration backed Rick Perry Tuesday, as the Texas governor aimed to toughen his image on an issue that has become a rallying cry among many GOP primary voters.
Illegal immigration hard-liner Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona, said Perry's experience working to secure the Texas border was unparalleled in the GOP field.
"He doesn't just talk about it, he does something about it," Arpaio said. "We have to look at someone who's already doing something about this problem."
During a question-and-answer session at Joey's Diner in Amherst, New Hampshire, Perry waded into the debate that has damaged his campaign and incensed some conservatives: how to approach the millions of illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
As governor, Perry signed legislation granting some children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition at Texas colleges.
He suggested Tuesday that the solution to dealing with the illegal immigrants already in the country was more complicated than some would wish.
"There's going to be an appropriate discussion in Congress with how to deal with an individual who has been here maybe for some long period of time," he said. "I don't know if I know all the answers."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has faced some criticism for advocating a path to legality for some illegal immigrants who have been in the country for years and have integrated into their communities. He has since insisted that he does not support amnesty however.
For his part, Perry said he did not support amnesty in any form and vowed to deport every illegal immigrant who was apprehended under a Perry presidency. He said all other concerns were irrelevant until the border was secure - something he promised to do within a year in office.
He also apologized again for suggesting in a CNN-GOP sponsored debate that opponents of the in-state tuition law were heartless, after a voter said she found the law hard to accept.
At another point in his speech, Perry sought again to differentiate himself with Gingrich, who has surged in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Without mentioning the former House speaker, Perry suggested he was a product of Washington and could not significantly change the way the federal government operates.
"We have establishment politicians, people who have worked in Washington DC, have been lobbyists in Washington DC," he said. "There's only one outsider that's standing on that stage, and that's me. I'm willing to go to Washington DC to overhaul it."
Gingrich has said the work he did for companies in Washington was not lobbying, and said he was paid as a thinker and a historian.