CREDIT: New Jersey National Guard
Immigration reform advocates are accusing Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) of backing off his campaign pledge to support legislation that would allow “undocumented immigrants to pay the instate tuition rate if they attend state colleges and universities and to qualify for state financial aid.”
The likely 2016 presidential candidate told a local radio show on Monday that he would not sign a state DREAM Act recently passed in the Senate, claiming that the measure is “overreaching” and would provide benefits “richer than the federal program and federal DREAM Act.” Christie indicated that he would support some version of the bill, though the companion legislation making its way through the state Assembly is expected to “match what the Senate has already passed.”
“Gov. Christie promised to sign a bill, and he’s going to get a bill with in-state tuition rates and state aid eligibility,” Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, the bill’s sponsor, said. “That’s the right bill to move, and if he rejects it, then he’s going to have to explain his broken promise to the young New Jerseyans and families who need tuition equality.”
Under the current system, undocumented students are permitted to attend K-12 public schools, but must pay out-of-state tuition at New Jersey’s public colleges. At Rutgers University New Jersey undergraduates currently pay $13,499 a year in tuition and fees while out-of-state students cough up $27,523.
Immigration advocates are pushing back against Christie’s veto threat, claiming that he twice promised to support the more comprehensive measure during his gubernatorial campaign. “I asked him directly if he was serious about his support,” immigration advocate Karol Ruiz said on a conference call organized by proponents, “He said yes and it would get passed in the lame duck session.”
Democrats point out that “the bill had been circulating largely in the same form for 10 years, and that it had not changed since Christie first expressed support for it.” Christie’s comparison to the federal DREAM Act, they say, is puzzling, since that measure does not deal with tuition rates or financial aid eligibility.
Lawmakers are now considering amending the measures to address some of Christie’s concerns — a loophole, for instance, that allows undocumented out-of-state private school students to receive in-state tuition — and say that he could also approve the bill with a conditional veto. That would make New Jersey the seventeenth state to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates.
This isn’t the first time Christie has wavered on immigration reform. Earlier this month, Christie wouldn’t call on lawmakers to include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in legislation to reform the nation’s immigration system despite previously expressing support for such a provision.