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Dream Act Passes, Grants In-State Tuition to Undocumented Immigrants

Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, said during the Democratic press conference that the bill will “open the doors to equality and fairness for children who don’t know home anywhere else” but in New Jersey.

Sweeney agreed. He said Senate Democrats were committed to winning approval for the state aid provision, but that it was most important to address the tuition issue for the spring semester.

“At least young people going into January aren’t going to have to pay double,” Sweeney said. “That was the most important thing for us. Sending us back the conditional veto today and signing the bill today, making it effective immediately, is what I needed . . . "

Christie, during a press conference announcing several personnel moves, said the bill provides tuition equality “responsibly and affordably.”

“The most important thing is that, for these young men and women in our state that we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in in K through 12 education, we are now going to give them an opportunity an affordable way to be able to continue their education,” he said.

“And if they do that, it will be to the benefit first and foremost of themselves, secondly to their families, and third to the family of New Jersey who will benefit from a more educated workforce to meet the challenges of the global economy,” he continued.

Giancarlo Tello, an activist with the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition, a group of undocumented students advocating for tuition equality and the passage of federal immigration reform, said during the Democratic press conference that the new tuition rules will allow him to return to college. Tello had to leave Bergen Community College because he could not afford the tuition.

But he also was critical of the governor for vetoing the aid provision. In-state tuition at many New Jersey schools remains out of reach for many immigrant students, he said, and excluding immigrant students from access to TAG grants perpetuates a tiered educational system.

“We deserve what our peers deserve because we are human beings and that’s how we should be treated,” he said. “Today we are begrudgingly accepting a conditional veto if that is what Gov. Christie decides to do. If Gov. Christie does decide to renege on his promise to our community, to the Latino and immigrant community at large. then for our community we will accept it but we are going to remember this.”

Ana Bonilla Martinez, a New Brunswick resident and organizer with the Wind in the Spirit immigrant resource center in Morristown, said vetoing the aid provision “continues discriminatory actions against taxpaying, undocumented residents of New Jersey.”

“We know that we pay close to a half a billion dollars in taxes and we know we have such great support coming from bishops in New Jersey, coming from unions coming from schools, from universities, from colleges, from important public figures,” she said during the press conference.

“What more does (Christie) want? We are taxpaying residents. We are New Jerseyans. We call this our home, This was the best bill for New Jersey and we are only getting half of it,” she said.

Christie, however, was quick to dismiss the complaint, calling the compromise a “step forward” that will offer immigrant students “a significant savings.”

“If they wanted more,” he said. “I’m sorry. But they are getting a lot more than they have ever gotten before.”

For groups like New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control, the compromise offers immigrant students far too much.

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