New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, surprised many over the weekend when he voiced supports for legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities.
In 2011, Christie said he opposed the idea of using taxpayer money to subsidize the college tuition of people who entered the country illegally. That same year, he said he would veto a bill offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But his remarks while speaking at a gala hosted by the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey on Saturday indicate he reversed his position on the issue.
“I believe that every child should be given the opportunity to reach their God-given potential. That’s a moral requirement,” he said. “We need to get to work in the state legislature on things like making sure that there’s tuition equality for everybody in New Jersey.”
‘Intense grassroots efforts’ urged Christie to reverse position on in-state tuition
Carlos Rojas said he and others from the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition have spent almost a year working on a campaign to convince Christie to publicly support in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. He contends their efforts with the campaign, dubbed the “N.J, Tuition Equity for DREAMers,” played a major role in convincing Christie to change his position on the issue.
“He did not do this wholeheartedly and out of nowhere,” Rojas told VOXXI of Christie changing his position. “There was a very intense grassroots effort behind the scenes that led up to him finally coming out in support of in-state tuition.”
Through direct actions, Rojas said activists involved with the campaign have been calling on Christie to voice his position on a bill currently pending in the state legislature.
The bill, dubbed the N.J. Tuition Equality Act, would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. To qualify, students must have attended at least three years of high school in New Jersey and earned a high school diploma or an equivalent degree.
The Assembly Budget Committee approved the bill in June. Rojas said now that Christie has come out in support of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, he and others “are expecting the state legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, to move forward and put the bill on the governor’s desk as soon as possible.”
If the N.J. Tuition Equality Act is approved and signed into law, New Jersey will join 16 other states that currently allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates.
Of those states, 14 approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants through the state legislature, while two states approved it through the Board of Regents, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Christie on track to gain support from Latino voters in 2016 presidential run
Perhaps the biggest factor that led Christie to change his position on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants is his presidential aspiration.
Christie, who is up for re-election in three weeks, has indicated he is eyeing a presidential run in 2016. His support for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants will undoubtedly boost his chances of picking up Latino votes if he runs for president.
A Latino Decisions poll shows Christie is already doing well among Latino voters. In fact, he has a higher favorability rating than other potential Republican presidential candidates.
The poll shows 38 percent of Latino voters view Christie favorably. That tops Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is viewed favorably by 31 percent of Latino voters, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is viewed favorable by 27 percent of Latino voters.
In an opinion piece published two weeks ago by NJ.com, activists Cesar Vargas and Giancarlo Tello urged Christie to sign the N.J. Tuition Equality Act into law. They said doing so would “show the sort of leadership Latino voters want.” They added it would also help set Christie apart from last year’s Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whom Christie endorsed for president.
Romney turned away many Latino voters by advocating for “self-deportation” and promising to veto the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would pave a path to citizenship for undocumented youth. As a result, he picked up 27 percent of the Latino vote, while President Barack Obama picked up 71 percent.
“If there is anything that the 2012 election really highlighted was that attacking Dreamers or the DREAM Act can hurt candidates,” Vargas, director of DREAM Action Coalition, told VOXXI.
For Rojas, Christie’s support of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants “clearly is an appeal to Latino voters” in New Jersey and across the nation, as he prepares to run for president.
“I think he is making this statement, because he wants to distance himself from past failed, anti-immigrant candidates like Mitt Romney,” Rojas told VOXXI. “He wants to be seen as someone who is a bipartisan governor and that can reach across the aisle.”