Immigrant-rights activists say New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reversed himself Saturday and endorsed giving illegal immigrants in-state college tuition rates, and said he will try to get the issue through his legislature in a lame-duck session.
Mr. Christie, who is up for re-election in November, is also seen as eyeing a bid for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination — but his support for in-state tuition could complicate that.
“We need tuition equality for everyone in New Jersey,” the activists said the governor said in a speech to the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey.
Afterward, the activists said, Mr. Christie told one of them that, “We will get it done in the lame duck.”
A message left with Mr. Christie’s office Sunday morning wasn’t returned.
Mr. Christie previously had opposed the federal Dream Act, which would have legalized illegal immigrant students and made them eligible nationwide for in-state tuition.
COVERAGE: Immigration Reform
New Jersey press accounts said Mr. Christie said that would have amounted to “subsidizing” them with taxpayers’ money.
Mr. Christie’s Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, Barbara Buono, has been a supporter of the legislation, known as the New Jersey Dream Act, and has attacked the governor for his opposition.
The New Jersey version of the legislation would grant in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities to illegal immigrants who attended at least three years of high school in the state, who received a diploma from a New Jersey school, and who vow to seek legalization once that chance opens up.
Young illegal immigrants are among the most sympathetic cases in the immigration debate, and President Obama last year issued a policy granting many of them tentative legal status, declaring he won’t deport them.
But using taxpayer money to aid illegal immigrants has been a more contentious issue.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry had tough luck trying to defend his state’s in-state tuition rates policy during the 2012 GOP presidential primaries.
Giancarlo Tello, part of the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition, said Mr. Christie had previously, but privately, committed to the Latino Leadership Alliance that he would back the legislation, but this weekend he publicly tied himself to the legislation.
Mr. Tello said Mr. Christie has earned the backing of Hispanics in New Jersey, and he said that will make the governor a more formidable candidate in a GOP primary.
“He has presidential ambitions and I think this will boost him, especially him winning a blue state and reaching across the aisle,” Mr. Tello said.
In other states, though, the issue is a loser for the GOP.
Texas was the first to grant in-state tuition in 2011, but since then the GOP, which led the charge, has backed away.
The handful of candidates vying for the Republican lieutenant governor’s nomination all support repeal of the law, according to The Dallas Morning News. The newspaper also said Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general who is hoping to succeed Mr. Perry as that state’s governor, wants changes — though he didn’t say exactly what he wanted to see done.
But some states have gone the other direction. California has approved not only in-state tuition rates, but the granting of financial assistance and scholarships.