On Tuesday New Jersey Governor and rumored GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie publicly celebrated the enactment of his state's DREAM Act. The law will give students who've grown up and gone to high school in the state the right to pay in-state college tuition, regardless of their immigration status. Christie quietly signed the bill into law late last month, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported, and on Tuesday signed a copy.
"You are an inspiration to us," Christie said in his address to New Jersey students this morning at the signing ceremony. "In you we see all that the future of our country can be. In you we see the infinite possibilities that exist in a human mind that's challenged and taught and maximized. In you, most importantly, we see the infinite possibilities of the human spirit."
New Jersey wasn't alone in its movement on tuition equity for undocumented students. In 2013, the Garden State joined Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon, which passed similar bills. Over a dozen states now have similar laws on their books, which are instrumental in allowing undocumented students to continue their education. Because undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid or grants, they must pay out of pocket for their higher education. But unless states proactively extend tuition equity to undocumented residents, those students are considered out-of-state students, and have to pay the tuition to match. In-state undergards at Rutgers University, for example, pay $13,499, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported. Out-of-state students pay $27,523.
There are two basic versions of laws which grant in-state tuition to undocumented students: one that extends in-state tuition equity to students regardless of their immigration status, and another which does that as well as offer state financial aid eligibility to undocumented students. Christie got New Jersey lawmakers to strip the financial aid eligibilty portion from the New Jersey law before agreeing to sign the bill.
New Jersey immigrant advocates have attempted to pass versions of the bill in prior legislative sessions, and during a similar effort in 2011 Christie said he'd veto any such tuition equity measure. But with the 2016 presidential elections looming and the growing importance of the Latino and immigrant vote, things have clearly changed in Christie's calculus.