NJ DREAMers to Christie: Don’t veto financial aid

The New Jersey Senate session Thursday, June 26, 2014, as New Jersey lawmakers get set to vote on a $34.1 billion state budget plan with vetoes from Gov. Christie looming. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

A coalition of student activists is hoping to convince Gov. Christie not to excise language in the Democratic budget that would grant state financial aid eligibility to college students who are in the country illegally.

“Students are now pressuring the Governor to live up to the promise he made to New Jersey’s DREAMers,” reads a statement released Friday afternoon by New Jersey Higher Education Legislative Package (NJ HELP), a group anchored by New Jersey United Students.

Both houses of the New Jersey Legislature passed a $34.1 billion budget along party lines Thursday. Christie has line item veto power over the budget, though he cannot add to it.

He has already vowed to veto certain budget elements, including tax hikes that were placed in the bill. Democratic lawmakers also threw in other items as well, including the aid eligibility for the students known as “DREAMers”, my colleagues Maddie Hanna and Andrew Seidman report:

“The budget also includes items on Democrats’ wish list: $7.4 million cut by Christie for family planning services; increasing the earned-income tax credit for low-income individuals from 20 percent to 25 percent of the federal credit; and language that would give undocumented immigrant college students access to state financial aid.”

The state’s DREAMers now wait to see whether the governor will break out the red pen.

In December, Christie signed a law to allow DREAMers to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. However, Democrats agreed to cut a provision that would have made the immigrants eligible for tuition aid. Christie had opposed that section of the bill, saying it would turn the state into a “magnet” for DREAMers in states without such a policy.

That compromise came after Christie appeared to reverse his stance on in-state tuition eligibility, which supporters refer to as “tuition equality.”

“I believe that every child should be able to be given the opportunity to reach their God-given potential. That’s a moral requirement. … We need to get to work in the state Legislature on things like making sure that there’s tuition equality for everybody in New Jersey,” he said at a Latino Leadership Alliance event.

Advocates praised what they saw as a shift in the governor's position, the Star-Ledger reported.

After agreeing to drop the financial aid provision, advocates said they would continue to push for financial aid.

Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D., Salem), the chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said at a public committee hearing at Rowan University last month that financial aid eligibility would return.

“I think that we are all supporting that resolution,” she said of the committee.

“You’re absolutely right, you deserve to get a college education,” she told a speaker who identified himself as a DREAMer from Washington Township. “You are an American citizen, as far as I’m concerned. And we are working with you, we will continue to work with you.”