NEWARK — In-state financial aid for hundreds of New Jersey students without legal status could now be within reach, thanks to a new law Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy enacted Wednesday.

Murphy was at Rutgers University-Newark, alongside Democratic lawmakers who pushed the bill, when he signed the legislation permitting New Jersey students without legal status to apply for state financial aid.

He cast the law as a repudiation of Republican former Gov. Chris Christie's 2013 conditional veto of similar legislation as well as push-back of President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigration.

"This is the America that I think we all know and embrace," Murphy said.

The legislation was a companion to a 2013 measure, which Christie did sign, allowing students without legal status to get in-state tuition. The administration says there are 759 students covered by the 2013 law that could now be eligible for in-state aid.

Legislative estimates put the potential costs of additional tuition aid grants at $4.47 million for the current academic year. That's just a fraction of Murphy's proposed $37.4 billion budget, but legislative cost estimates also conclude that the total increase is "indeterminate."

The law makes New Jersey the ninth state to enact legislation enabling students without legal status to qualify for financial aid.

The bill signing had a celebratory atmosphere. Murphy said he and advocates were "spiking the football," and Democratic state Sen. Teresa Ruiz recalled the frustration of failing to enact the legislation about a decade ago. She said after falling short to get the bill enacted she encountered a sobbing woman and promised to get it done over time.

"I'm sorry it took me 10 years," Ruiz said.

Esder Chong, a Rutgers-Newark student and recipient of legal status under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, praised Murphy and lawmakers for making it easier for immigrants to go to college.

She questioned how many people might have missed out on or gave up on college over fears concerning their legal status.

"How many future doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers and senators has New Jersey lost?" she said. "Today that changes."

Some Republicans are not pleased with the law. Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber, who is running for Congress this year, said citizens should be treated as well as or better than noncitizens and that showing compassion to immigrants doesn't require offering "limitless public benefits."

"This new law is fundamentally wrong for our citizens and taxpayers," Webber said.

The law requires the state Higher Education Student Assistance Authority and the Higher Education secretary to set up procedures to allow students without lawful status to seek financial aid in New Jersey.

Eligible students must have attended high school in New Jersey for three or more years and graduated from a high school in-state, or have earned an equivalent of a diploma in the state.

The law goes into effect immediately.

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM