Chris Christie signs New Jersey’s DREAM Act into law

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) joined the small number of Republicans supporting immigration reform, signing the Garden State’s version of the DREAM Act into law Friday.

The bill, which passed the state Senate in November and sailed through the state Assembly on Thursday, would allow illegal immigrants who graduated from a New Jersey high school to be eligible for in-state tuition. In a compromise with the Democrat-controlled state legislature, Christie announced that he would support the bill with a conditional veto of a provision regarding eligibility for state financial aid.

“The most important thing is for these young men and women in our state, who we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in, in their K-12 education, we’re now going to give them an opportunity in an affordable way to be able to continue their education,” Christie said in a video to his constituents Thursday“And if they do, that’s going to be to the benefit, first and foremost, of themselves. Secondly, to their families. And third, to the [families] of New Jersey, who will benefit from a more educated workforce to meet the challenges of the global economy.”

In exchange for his support of “tuition equality,” Christie called on legislators to agree to eliminate a provision of the bill making children without legal status eligible for financial aid, saying such a measure “serves only to drive enrollment from out-of-state students, at the expense of in-state residents.” Democrats in the legislature OK’d that change, and Christie signed the bill Friday afternoon.

The New Jersey governor, who is shrouded in speculation of a 2016 run for the White House, joins fellow Republican Govs. Jeb Bush (Fla.) and Rick Perry (Texas) in support of bipartisan solutions for immigration reform. But many on the Right stand in support of strong, reinforced border security first before addressing federal and state assistance.

“Why should any undocumented alien be able to get any kind of financial assistance, educational assistance?” Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committee committee member, told POLITICO.

According to the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, the average cost of in-state tuition for New Jersey’s public four-year universities is $12,000, among the highest in the country, and well above the national average. The cost of out-of-state tuition for New Jersey public universities is roughly $19,900.

But public colleges and universities are largely subsidized by taxpayers, and allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition undermines the law-abiding, taxpaying citizens of the Garden State. And as demonstrated by the disparity between in-state and out-of-state tuition costs, tax dollars allow residents to pay substantially less than those from other states.

According to a 2009 Social Security Administration study61 percent of illegal immigrants arriving after 2001 work in the “underground economy” and receive wages in cash, paying neither Social Security nor income taxes.

And while legal residents of both the state of New Jersey and the U.S. pay both, allowing illegal immigrants who graduate from the state’s high schools to receive in-state tuition means they benefit from taxpayer-funded subsidies, which a majority do not contribute to.

New Jersey’s DREAM Act, which Christie said will take effect immediately, differs from the U.S. DREAM Act introduced in Congress. Under the federal legislation, illegal immigrants would be legally allowed to obtain a driver’s license and other documentation previously prohibited. The law specifically addresses undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, have lived in the country for at least five years, attend or graduated from high school or enlisted in the military, and are in good standing.

President Barack Obama announced in an executive action last year that he would no longer deport illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

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