A series of events since his last reelection as New Jersey governor has put Governor Chris Christie in the hot seat.
Lately, he has gained national attention due to the New Jersey/New York Port Authority event that cost the resignation of two of his main political appointees.
But locally, the situation between Gov. Christie and the Latino community has been, to say the least, tense. Since his campaign for reelection earlier this year, his tune has changed to fit a new stage, the 2016 national presidential campaign.
This year, he was reelected to the governor’s office with 51 percent of the Latino vote because “he paid attention to them in a respectful and meaningful way.” He even advised Republicans to show up at places where they felt “uncomfortable” to win minority votes.
In reality, his promises to support immigration reform and New Jersey Dreamers’ equal access to a college education –two of his campaign’s strongest pledges to Latinos- seem to have changed dramatically in just one month.
From Peru to the American Dream
Giancarlo Tello came from Peru to New Jersey at six years old. Like many other Hispanic families, his parents migrated in search of better opportunities. “At the time , the situation in Peru was very difficult. It was impossible to get a job or support your family,” Tello said to VOXXI.
With little awareness of his immigrant status, Tello was raised as any other American kid; school, playgrounds, birthday parties and sports, everything in his life was shared with peers and friends. But soon in his junior high school, reality sank when he tried to apply for learner’s driving permit.
“I found out about my undocumented status,” Tello said. “It was very depressing. I was just as American as any of my other friends.”
Tello was unhappy he had no control over the situation. “I even lost motivation. My grades in school suffered, I thought my college dream was over,” Tello recalls sadly. “My parents had made such great sacrifices to give me a better life! Now, it was all gone.”
However, through a friend, Tello found out he still could attend college as an international student. He enrolled in Bergen County Community College.
Instead of paying $110 per credit as the in-state students did, he was paying the $330 per credit international students were required to pay. With no car and no work permit, Tello worked a series of odd jobs to help his family pay for tuition costs. He worked hard and as able to finish his Associate degree.
While in Bergen College, Tello became an advocate for Dreamer’s rights. So when Gov. Christie implied at a Latino Leadership Alliance event he would support equal access for “everybody” to New Jersey’s higher education many undocumented immigrant students thought positive changes would soon be happening.
Tello was one of them.
“I believed change was on the way,” he said.
Bergen College Trustee Cid Wilson’s perspective
“Gov. Christie is hiding his ideological beliefs behind a fiscal issue,” Vice Chair of the Bergen Community College Board of Trustees Cid Wilson told VOXXI. “Saying the bill already approved by the State Senate is too generous is a weak excuse.”
As a college trustee who works in Wall Street, Wilson understands the impact not passing the bill will have on New Jersey’s taxpayers. He testified in front of the Assembly Budget Committee last week.
“We have already invested $18,000 a year on each of these Dreamers, and now we say providing them with $3,000 of financial aids a year is too much money? It is like running a marathon and stopping in the last mile.” he said.
Wilson also commented on some of Christie’s other arguments.
“Denying New Jersey Dreamers in-state tuition and financial aid –what we call genuine tuition equality- to favor out-of-state students makes no fiscal or financial sense,” said Wilson.
“Those students will return to their states and work there. Why can’t we favor those New Jersey residents who would be paying higher taxes because they are able to get a better job and also benefit employers with a qualified local labor grounded to New Jersey communities? These are real numbers not considered by Gov. Christie.”
In addition, no student in New Jersey is eligible for the New Jersey Stars Scholarship if they do not achieve the 15 percent of their class mark. “If a Dreamer does not qualify for the scholarship because of his or her status, it does not provide the money or the place for another student who is in the 16 percentile to move up,” Wilson explained.
College enrollment is down by five percent in New Jersey –contrary to national levels- and the cost of opening a class will be the same whether the class is filled or not, according to Wilson.
Dreamers before and after the Governor’s campaign
Tello, who has since become the Chair for the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition, believes Gov. Christie earned the Hispanic vote due to his promises but his shot as a GOP primary candidate will depend on whether or not he makes the right decisions now. His change of tune has been very disheartening to Tello as well as to others in his situation.
“You have to take what a politician says with a grain of salt. If he really cares about his political future, he will have to pass this bill or his national campaign will hurt. He is playing games with Dreamers but Latinos deserve all of his promises, not only the crumbs,” he added.
The Assembly Budget Committee added a tax requirement for the bill to meet Federal requirements and will be sending it to Gov. Christie next week. If approved, it could truly be a great Christmas gift for all those families waiting for what may seem like a miracle.