Democrats reach agreement with Christie on DREAM Act

TRENTON – New Jersey’s Democratic leadership announced an agreement with Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday regarding the bill known as the DREAM Act. The bill, which allows students, including undocumented immigrants, to pay lower, in-state tuition at public colleges and makes them eligible for financial aid, is expected to be passed by the Legislature on Thursday. Christie, however, will issue a conditional veto of the bill, targeting Tuition Aid Grants (TAG). 

“We have come to an agreement on a conditional veto. To me, the most important part is that the governor will sign today, making this legislation effective immediately,” said State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D – 3). “This isn’t a giveaway, by any means. This is paying for school. The only piece of this bill that didn’t survive is the TAG grant. I’m disappointed with that, but I still view this as a victory for young people that are Americans in everything but on paper.”  

“We will not stop the quest to make this completely equal, which means the TAG grants,” Sweeney added. “We don’t view that in any way at all as being a magnet state – we view it as being a fair state.”  

The legislation to be signed today would permit undocumented immigrants who graduated high school in New Jersey after attending for at least three years to be qualified for the lower in-state tuition rates at public higher educational institutions, as well as in-county rates at community colleges.  

Christie will not sign a version of the bill the Assembly will send him that would permit students to have access to state financial aid programs, including Tuition Aid Grants. Democrats decided to agree with the governor’s conditional veto. 

Although State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D -29), the bill’s sponsor, said she was “overwhelmed with joy” by the compromise bill’s impending passage, Giancarlo Tello, a Peruvian-born, former Rutgers-Newark student, had a mixed reaction.  

Tello, 23, was brought to America illegally as a child and was forced to drop out of college when he was unable to pay out-of-state tuition rates. 

“For our community, we will begrudgingly accept it. But we are going to remember this,” Tello, who works for a student organization supporting the bill, said, adding that Christie has “reneged” on promises to the Latino immigrant community. “We are going to remember our friends who stood by us…and we will remember those who thought that we only deserve crumbs, such as Gov. Christie, and we’re not going to forget that. And we are committed to coming back next year.” 

Frank Argote-Freyre, president of the Latino Action Network, noted that Christie’s position would help him appeal to multiple sides of the policy divide on immigration as the governor hopes to expand on the 51 percent of the Latino vote he received in the November gubernatorial election. 

“By passing the in-state tuition piece of the bill, he hopes to gain credibility in the Latino community here and throughout the country,” said Argote-Freyre, pointing to Christie’s presidential ambitions. “For the more right-of-center groups, he can say that he fought against any tuition assistance. His political calculus is that he can use the Dream Act bill both ways.”

Democrats reach agreement with Christie on DREAM Act