New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) signed into law a piece of legislation Friday that will allow some of his state’s undocumented residents to be eligible for in-state college tuition starting in January 2014. The state is now the 18th state to grant eligible undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition. The Tuition Equality Act, colloquially known as the NJ Dream Act, was ultimately a compromise between the governor and state Senate Democrats. Christie said that he would only sign the bill if the State Legislature struck a provision allowing undocumented immigrants to access state financial aid programs.
The law will allow undocumented immigrants to be eligible for in-state tuition after they attend school for at least three years in the state’s high schools and then graduate. The initial tuition equality bill, which included financial aid provisions, passed through the state Senate last month. It was again approved in the State Assembly on Thursday afternoon. Because of the compromise on the financial aid provision, Christie blocked the measure with a conditional veto and the bill was sent back to the Legislature for changes. Under a conditional veto, a bill is tabled until the Legislature either agrees to Christie’s changes or gets support from a two-thirds majority from both the state Senate and Assembly.
In October, Christie gave indications that he supported tuition equity during a Latino Leadership Alliance, which immigration reform advocates took to mean that he supported the bill. Soon afterwards, Christie won his reelection campaign with 51 percent of the Latino vote. Yet, many accused him of flip-flopping when after his reelection, Christie argued for the bill to be amended.
Supporters of the DREAM Act have long argued that allowing undocumented immigrants to attend college would boost the economy — New Jersey in particular would benefit from an overall increase in tax revenues, earnings, and job growth. But college could still be out of reach for some of the 75,000 DREAM Act-eligible undocumented students because of the financial burden it imposes. The average in-state college tuition in New Jersey is $11,620, while the median household income of an undocumented family is $36,000 (the median household income for an U.S.-born family is $50,000).