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Immigrant Tuition Bill Will Go to Christie ‘As Is’

NEW JERSEY 101.5

The New Jersey Legislature plans to send Gov. Chris Christie an immigrant tuition bill without amending it to reflect the changes he wants.

College Graduation
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

Christie said Monday he would not sign the bill that passed the Senate because its benefits are too generous. He said the measure contains a loophole that could make New Jersey a magnet for students who are in the country illegally and seeking a more affordable college education.

Advocates for tuition equity called Christie’s objections “nonsensical,” and said the governor was flip-flopping on a promise since the bill had not changed since he pledged his support while campaigning for re-election.

Senate leaders said Tuesday they have no plans to change the bill. Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, sponsor of a similar bill in the Assembly, said he’ll amend his version to include a provision enabling students who are in the country illegally to receive financial aid, which matches the Senate bill. He is also considering an additional amendment that would protect the value of Tuition Aid Grants, which the Senate bill does not address.

“That’s the right bill to move,” said Johnson, a Democrat from Bergen County. “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.”

The bill lets students who are in the country illegally but graduate from a New Jersey high school pay the cheaper in-state tuition at state colleges, saving them thousands of dollars per semester. It also permits them to receive financial aid if qualified. The federal Dream Act would provide a path to permanent residency through higher education and military service for those who arrived in the United States illegally as minors. California and Texas are among the 13 states with versions of tuition-equity on the books.

Christie support of the Dream Act-style legislation helped him win 50 percent of the Hispanic vote on Nov. 5. The bill has wide support among Hispanics and blacks, groups the Republican governor has been courting ahead of a possible 2016 presidential bid.

But, on a monthly call-in radio program on Monday, Christie said he would not sign the bill unless changes are made.

One involves eliminating a loophole that would allow immigrant students from other states who attend boarding schools in New Jersey to qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. The exact number of such students is unknown, though Dream Act Coalition advocates say the number is minuscule. They also said amending the language to eliminate those few students would cut out far more deserving ones.

Giancarlo Tello, 23, a Rutgers student from Peru, said Christie’s position didn’t ring true because the bill requires students to prove they live and pay taxes in New Jersey. At least 10,000 college students living in the country without legal permission would benefit from the law.

“They’ve got time to fix between now and Jan. 14, and I hope they will,” Christie said Townsquare Media’s “Ask the Governor.” “If they do, I will (sign it), if they don’t I won’t.”

Milly Silva, who ran for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket opposing Christie and is of Puerto Rican descent, criticized him for “reneging” on the pre-election commitment he made to Latinos.

“It is outrageous to use young students as political footballs to further one’s presidential ambitions,” she said in a statement.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney expressed a similar view.

“The governor never misses an opportunity to disappoint,” the Democrat said. “When he was running for governor, he supported it. Now that he is running for president, he does not.”

Christie was traveling out of state, and spokesman Colin Reed said the governor’s office wouldn’t comment beyond what Christie said on the radio.

 

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

 

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