Adios muchacho: Christie threatens veto of NJ’s Dream Act

Bill would allow in-state tuition for illegal aliens

After saying he would sign a Dream Act in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday raised new objections to the version his state Assembly is getting ready to send him — raising questions about whether he is playing politics or trying to win the best possible deal from the Legislature.

Mr. Christie said during his recent re-election campaign that he would sign a bill granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, but has balked at the specific bill winding its way through the Legislature.

The Republican governor said he has three objections: The bill allows financial aid in addition to in-state tuition, treats out-of-state illegal immigrants who attend private school in New Jersey better than out-of-state citizens who do the same, and doesn’t have a sunset date.

“I’m for tuition equality. I’m not for adding tuition aid grants,” Mr. Christie said at a news conference Monday.

The governor won re-election a month ago with significant Hispanic support — 51 percent according to exit polls.

Immigrant rights groups cheered Mr. Christie’s victory as a sign that Republicans can compete for Hispanic votes if they soften their stance on immigration. They compared that with the loss of GOP gubernatorial nominee Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II in Virginia, who took a stricter stance on immigration en route to a narrow defeat.

But Mr. Christie’s new hurdles could complicate his pitch to Hispanics, particularly since in-state tuition has become one of several key immigration litmus tests for governors eyeing presidential runs.

Giancarlo Tello, a leader with the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition, said it’s up to Mr. Christie to be constructive in the debate. Speaking before Mr. Christie’s news conference, he said activists were looking to the governor for guidance.

“If he’s truly genuine about wanting those issues to pass, he should come work with the Assembly and the advocates and say this is what I want,” Mr. Tello said.

The state Senate last month passed its version of the bill, which had been pending for months.

It would grant in-state tuition rates to students who attended New Jersey high schools for at least three years, who graduated from a school in the state, and who said they were trying to seek legal status.

If Mr. Christie objected to that language, Senate leaders said, he could have said something earlier.

But speaking to reporters Monday, Mr. Christie said he never meant during the campaign to say he supported a specific bill.

“I thought the Legislature should move in the lame-duck session toward tuition equality in New Jersey — period. That’s what I said. I didn’t support any particular piece of legislation,” the governor said.

In an interview with The Washington Times before Mr. Christie spoke, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, who is chief sponsor of the Dream Act in the state’s lower house, said he plans to take up the Senate version.

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