A measure in New Jersey that would allow not only in-state tuition college rates for undocumented students, but also access to financial aid, is one step closer to making its way to the desk of Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who may run for president in 2016.
On Monday, the state Senate passed a bill, with a 25-12 vote, to permit this group of residents to attend state colleges and universities at the cheaper in-state rate. The Assembly passed a similar bill, but one that does not include a provision allowing undocumented students to receive financial aid.
During his campaign for governor, Christie had changed his public opposition to in-state tuition, and essentially challenged the legislature to pass a measure. Previously, he said that he disagreed with giving such a break to people who were not in the country legally.
But then Christie, who made several moves to appeal to Latinos, softened his stance, saying he supported a measure that would remove barriers to higher education.
Not all states that now have in-state tuition measure have a financial aid provision, meaning that students who meet all the criteria of in-state tuition bill still must find a way to foot the cost of college. Some 10,000 students in New Jersey could be affected by the measure if Gov. Chris Christie signs it into law.
Incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has indicated the Assembly would amend its bill to include the financial aid provision.
One Republican senator said the state doesn't have enough slots to accommodate college students who are not citizens.
Christie, a likely presidential candidate in 2016 who has been touting his re-election support among Hispanics, softened his opposition to the measure, which is widely supported by minority voters. But it's unclear whether he would sign the bill.
During his re-election campaign for governor, he told the Latino Leadership Alliance he generally supports legislation benefiting undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children. The day after winning re-election and garnering 50 percent of the Hispanic vote, Christie told an audience in predominantly Hispanic Union City he hoped to get a deal done with the Legislature during the lame-duck session, but that the plan must be fiscally sound and take everybody's dreams into account.
Proponents say these students, who are residents of the state, deserve the cheaper rate. They say their future economic and social contributions to society will be far greater if they are allowed to continue their studies. Prieto said it doesn't make much sense to support these students through high school then stop doing so before they enter college.
New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control, on the other hand, opposes what it says is taxpayer subsidies for undocumented immigrants to attend college. They say such a bill would undermine the efforts by legal residents to obtain good-paying jobs.
Conservatives who play a big role in selecting the Republican presidential nominee strongly oppose bills that help undocumented residents.
Proponents of the bill lauded the Senate passage.
“Our New Jersey DREAMer are as much a part of New Jersey as every other student,” said Cid Wilson, who is vice chairman of the Board of Trustees at Bergen Community College, in a statement to Fox News Latino.
“They grow up in New Jersey, they attend high schools in New Jersey, and they graduate with New Jersey diplomas. The best way for New Jersey to get a return on its K-12 education investment is to help the New Jersey DREAMers get a college degree.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.