New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed landmark legislation at the end of December which allowed the state’s undocumented high school students access to in-state tuition at all public colleges and universities.
Under the new legislation, students who graduated from a New Jersey high school where they had been in attendance for at least three years are eligible to receive in-state and in-county rates at state colleges, universities, and community college campuses.
“This is what compromise looks like,” the governor said of the bill, deemed the state’s “Dream Act.” Christie signed the original bill with a conditional veto, forcing Democrats in the Legislature to remove a provision that allowed access to state financial aid. Upon the bill’s return, both the Senate and the Assembly quickly agreed to Christie’s revision.
While many in the state hailed the passage as an historic compromise, Christie still came under fire from critics on both the left and right. Immigration advocates claim Christie’s exclusion of access to financial aid unfairly punishes students who were brought to this country by no choice of their own and produces a roadblock to their potential success. Critics on the right are afraid that the legislation, as is, will cost the state millions of taxpayer dollars and reduce the number of opportunities for native-born and legal immigrant students.
The New York Times reported Christie stating, “I care about taking care of New Jersey kids, whether they’re citizens or undocumented.” The same article cited New Jersey as part of a handful of states that allow in-state tuition for undocumented students, with only three states – California, Texas, and New Mexico – allowing unauthorized immigrants access to financial assistance.
Despite increasing political speculation as 2016 approaches, Christie continues to work through controversial topics in a deeply democratic state. As the political events in the Garden State gain more national attention, we will see if the Governor’s leadership style appeals to a broader base.