The New Jersey Legislature plans to send Gov. Chris Christie an immigrant tuition bill without amending it to reflect the changes he wants.
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 N.J. a magnet for students who are in the country illegally and seeking a more affordable college education.
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 match the senate’s.
“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 grants students who are in the country illegally but graduate from a New Jersey high school 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 said he supported the Dream Act-style legislation while campaigning for re-election, a position that 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 it is probably small.
“They’ve got time to fix between now and Jan. 14, and I hope they will,” Christie said on 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.