UNION CITY – In a gym inside Colin Powell Elementary School, Gov. Chris Christie signed the Dream Act, which enables the children of undocumented workers residing in New Jersey to pay in-state tuition at its public colleges and universities.
“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-36).
Lapping up national presidential run symbolism in a bipartisan nod to Hispanics, Christie signed the bill in front of a packed crowd, and flanked by state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-33), Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto (D-32), Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-20), Caride and others.
“I signed this bill officially in my office [last month],” Christie said. “I did it because I didn’t want the young men and women to have to wait another minute longer. …We live in a very cynical world. People have been taught that you can’t take people at their word. I believe they [government officials] have an obligation to sit in a room and come to a point where they can advance the interests of the people who elected them in the first place. Government is not a debating society. Government’s job is to get things done for the people who elect us.”
When the governor signed the bill, cheers ensued in the school gym.
“Specifically thanks to our governor, who has always put the residents first, and not his ambition,” said Stack. “What takes place here today should be happening in Washington.”
Prieto, who grew up in Union City, amplified the pro-Christie message.
“Today, this is all about fairness and equality,” he said. “I want to thank Gov. Christie. In New Jersey, we get it. We’ve been working together. There’s always room for compromise. This is something that’s been in the making for ten years. We want to make sure that all our children can go to the next level.”
Latino Leadership Alliance Founder Martin Perez said he worked unsuccessfully with three former governors to get the Dream Act done.
Only Christie had the muscle and will to persevere.
“Finally we have a governor who made a commitment to us,” Perez said. “When he makes a commitment, he delivers the goods. We are sending a message to the whole country: the way we are working in New Jersey is the way we want to see Washington. Republicans and Democrats have to work together.”
Ruiz kept stoking the national narrative.
“This conversation is about America,” she said. “Bipartisan effort. Listening. Working together.”
Christie praised Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and urged a round of applause for the Senate president, who is in Washington, D.C. today.
“This would not have happened without the Senate president,” Christie said.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) released a statement today upon the ceremonial signing of the NJ Dream Act.
“Today, New Jersey becomes a more welcoming and inclusive state for immigrants and their families,” said Menendez. “This commonsense policy will ensure that New Jersey high school students aren’t denied a college education and the chance to pursue the American dream. We have already invested in these young men and women and they deserve the same opportunity to harness their talents and reach their full potential as anybody else who grew up and attended school in New Jersey.
“While it is unfortunate that Governor Christie only supported part of this proposal—denying these young New Jerseyans an opportunity to obtain financial aid—I am thrilled to be marching toward a more promising future for DREAMers one step at a time. This legislation puts us one step closer to turning the dream of finally fixing our nation’s broken immigration system into a reality.”
Giancarlo Tello, an undocumented student and campaign manager for the New Jersey Tuition Equity for Dreamers Coalition, said advocates are heartened that a 10-year struggle resulted in a win.
“However we still hold Governor Christie accountable for his promise of ‘full equality’ that he made when courting our votes,” Tello said. “Full equality means access to State Financial Aid, and we will continue pushing to put this issue on his desk. Then we will see if the Governor lives up to his word and truly cares about the Latino and Immigrant community or whether he prefers us to only be left with half-equality.”