One month after winning his re-election campaign, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would sign a version of the “Dream Act” into state law. The state Legislature is expected to vote Thursday afternoon on the agreement made with Christie, and the governor’s office said he is ready to sign it.
The move will offer undocumented immigrant students in-state tuition, but will not allow them to receive state financial aid.
“I want to work it out, because I want this to happen for the young men and women in this state,” Christie said in a press conference last week. “But I won’t be taken to the cleaners, so let’s all be fair with each other. You want compromise? Let’s compromise. Let’s be smart.”
The governor garnered 51 percent of the Latino vote in his re-election bid last month. He promised in October to take up the issue.
“I believe that every child should be given the opportunity to reach their God-given potential. That’s a moral requirement,” Christie said Oct. 12 to the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. “And we need to work together to make sure that that happens. We need to make sure that we continue to work on the issues that will make those children believe that they have a bigger and brighter future. We need to get to work in the state Legislature on things like making sure there’s tuition equality for everyone in New Jersey.”
Christie’s plunge into the immigration scuffle could be a point of attack as he forays into the prospects of running for president in 2016. The move splinters Christie from other leaders in the Republican Party and their popular opposition to such a measure.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed a similar piece of legislation in 2001. In his run for the presidency in 2011, the governor’s stance became a firing target among the other Republican presidential hopefuls.
“I don’t see how it is that a state like Texas -- to go to the University of Texas -- if you’re an illegal alien, you get an in-state tuition discount,” said then-candidate Mitt Romney in a Sept. 2011 FOX News-Google GOP debate. “You know how much that is? That’s $22,000 a year. Four years of college, you’re at almost $100,000 discount if you are an illegal alien go to the University of Texas.”
Romney, who was fighting his own problem of having had undocumented immigrants working at his home in Massachusetts, added: “That kind of magnet draws people into this country to get that education.”
Immigration was also a thorny issue in the 2008 campaign for Arizona Sen. John McCain, who had spearheaded the comprehensive-reform effort in 2005, but by the time the talk-radio right mobilized to help kill a second bill in 2007, McCain backed off his earlier strong support.
"I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift," McCain said in November 2007 in South Carolina. "I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders."
By the time 2010 and a Tea Party challenge came along, McCain was cutting ads urging the government to "Build the danged fence."
After Christie’s re-election, the public’s perception of Christie’s commitment to the “Dream Act” began to wane.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger published a scathing editorial earlier this month after Christie discussed qualms he had with the proposed legislation. The paper accused Christie of flip-flopping.
“The real reason for his flip-flop?” its editorial board wrote. “Christie has his eyes on the presidency. And if he has to roll over Latinos to get there, he’ll do it.”
Today, however, Christie put an end to the debate in New Jersey.
"Shame on all of you who accused me and others of playing politics with this issue," Christie said today in a press conference at the New Jersey statehouse, according to the Star-Ledger. (The governor’s office declined to elaborate on the governor’s decision when asked by First Read.)
The governor’s support of the measure could help thread a needle into the Latino community for the Republican Party. The party commissioned a self-review earlier this year that included a section on changing its outreach to the Hispanic community. It read, in part: “Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
But Christie has not publicly commented on the federal immigration-reform bill passed by the Senate earlier this year, which stalled in the House. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who put a lot of political capital on the line to help get the Senate bill passed and campaign for it, has since seen his presidential prospects dim.