The DREAM Act, a bill which allows access to in-state tuition benefits at public universities for undocumented college students, was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie in December 2013. The Act enjoyed bipartisan support in the State Legislature and passing the Act was a goal of Christie’s November 2013 campaign for re-election.
DREAM stands for “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors” and carries specific criteria that students must meet to be eligible for benefits like the student must attend for three years and graduate from a NJ high school.
The bill would not allow students to be eligible for financial aid, a hotly debated partisan issue prior to the bill’s passage. Democrats wanted the Act to provide financial aid benefits in addition to in-state tuition but Republican Governor Christie threatened to veto the legislation if it contained such language when it reached his desk.
After completion of either two years in the military or two years in a four-year university the student will be able to obtain a status of temporary residency for the following six years under the DREAM Act.
To put the bill’s impact in perspective, The College of New Jersey costs $15,780 annually for in-state students, but costs $26,184 annually for out of state students. The legislation lessens the financial burden at TCNJ by over $10,000 a year.
Previously Christie had opposed in state tuition for illegal immigrants, but changed his stance during a 2013 campaign speech made in front of the Latino Leadership Alliance. Christie said “The legislature should move towards tuition equality in New Jersey. Period.” The Governor later added that he “didn’t support any particular legislation, but supported tuition equality” in general.
Recent additions to the bill stipulate that students will be able to receive between $1,000 and $2,000 in scholarships when maintaining high grades. In a recent article, Kelly Heyboer of The Star Ledger said, “DREAMers eligible for new scholarships for immigrant college students living in U.S. illegally.”
Students who are not the children of illegal immigrants will still feel beneficial waves of the DREAM Act’s passage.
Jose Santiago graduated in 2013 from Rutgers University with a degree in Organizational Leadership, and is currently attending Eastern Michigan University with plans to eventually pursue a career as an educator. Santiago grew up in Perth Amboy, NJ.
“I’m excited about this bill because I know a lot of people from high school who definitely could’ve benefited from something like this. I think education is a fantastic privilege in our country and it’s awesome for it to be available to as many people as possible,” Santiago said.
The VOICE contacted Representative Rush Holt, a known supporter of educational equality, about his feelings on the DREAM Act, but Hold could not be reached for comment.
The bill was not without opposition. Claims that it will make NJ a more desirable state for illegal immigrants and promote breaking the law to get here appeared on usimmigration.com, a self-proclaimed “Do-It-Yourself Immigration Guide.”
In an nj.com article by Matt Friedman of the Star Ledger “N.J. Dream Act: immigrant tuition measure gets closer to Christie’s desk,” Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris) voiced concerns that the bill favors non-citizens who grew up in NJ illegally over American citizens born out of state. “Don’t we have obligations to our fellow citizens even though they might not live in the state of New Jersey,” Webber said.
Governor Christie’s status as a potential Republican presidential nominee are no secret and his national ambitions have been cited as a motivator of his support the the DREAM Act.
A January 2014 article by Brent Budowsky on thehill.com says “Christie’s move toward immigration reform perfectly illustrates why he has more appeal to Hispanic voters than any other national Republican.”
The article goes on to call Christie “the man to watch in presidential politics.”