On Saturday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) said for the first time that he would try to pass the New Jersey Tuition Equality Act — a bill that grants undocumented immigrants the chance to pay the lower in-state tuition rates. He plans to push for the legislation during the state legislature’s lame duck session. His public support reverses his previous opposition to granting in-state tuition at public colleges to so-called DREAMers, undocumented students who were illegally brought to the country by their parents.
During a keynote address at a gala hosted by the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, Christie spoke about his commitment to issues that affect Latinos:
CHRISTIE: We’re leaving them without hope that their lives will be great. I believe every child should be given the opportunity to reach their God-given potential. That’s the moral requirement. We need to work together to make sure that that happens. We need to make sure that we continue to work on the issues that will make our children believe that they have a bigger and brighter future. We need to get to work in the state legislature around things like making sure that there’s tuition equality for everyone in New Jersey.
Christie later emphasized to members of the immigration rights advocacy group, NJ Tuition Equity for DREAMers, “We need tuition equality for everyone in New Jersey. We are going to try to work on it. We will get it done in the Lame Duck.”
If approved, the legislation would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they have lived in New Jersey for at least three years and received a high school diploma, or a diploma equivalent like a GED.
In 2011, Christie criticized Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) decision to support in-state tuition for undocumented students in Texas, saying, “I do not believe that, for the people who came here illegally, that we should be subsidizing, with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition, their education.”
And yet undocumented immigrants living in New Jersey help to subsidize their own education by paying more than $476,352,000 in state and local taxes.
Tuition, fees, and board at Rutgers University (a state school) run about $13,500 a year. Meanwhile, out-of-state residents have to pay around $28,000 a year. The average household income for undocumented families is $36,000.
Currently, all undocumented students, including those who received deferred action, or temporary legal presence, through a presidential initiative, have to pay the out-of-state tuition rate.
Two days before he publicly supported the tuition equality bill, Christie gave a speech about urban children that can similarly argued about aspiring undocumented students. He said, “If they work hard and we need to give them the tools to be able to turn that hard work into a fulfillment of their potential, and that shouldn’t matter where you live in New Jersey. If a child has a big enough dream we should be able to give them the tools to achieve that dream if they’re willing to work hard enough to do it.”
During a gubernatorial debate with Barbara Buono on Tuesday night, Christie again confirmed his support for the Tuition Equality Act.
The article originally said that the NJ Tuition Equality Act would not include a financial aid provision. That statement is incorrect — the Senate version of the bill does in fact include a financial aid provision, while the Assembly version covers only in-state tuition, but not financial aid.