Christie: I didn’t flip-flop on immigration

December 2, 2013

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). (John Gress/ Reuters)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) forcefully denied Monday that he has switched positions on in-state tuition for young illegal immigrants, saying he continues to support the idea but won't sign the specific bill passed by the state legislature.

Christie said during his 2013 reelection campaign that he supported the concept of the legislation, commonly known as the Dream Act. He wound up winning 51 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls.

But when the state legislature initially passed the legislation, Christie said it went too far -- including offering financial aid for these students -- and risked making New Jersey a magnet for young illegal immigrants. He asked the Democratic-controlled state legislature to make changes to the measure and said he wouldn't sign it without them. The legislature declined, leading to a stalemate.

On Sunday, the state's largest newspaper, the Star-Ledger, accused Christie of flip-flopping on the issue because he wants to run for the GOP nomination for president in 2016.

Christie reiterated Monday that he won't sign the bill as it's currently written but said it has everything to do with the other parts of the bill and not in-state tuition. He said his position during this year's campaign pertained to the general idea and not a specific piece of legislation and, thus, has been consistent.

"I didn’t support any particular piece of legislation, and I still support tuition equality," Christie said, according to a transcript. "Here’s what I don’t support: I don’t support tuition aid grants in addition to in-state tuition rates; never said that I did, and don’t as we stand here today."

While 16 states provide in-state tuition for young illegal immigrants, only three go a step further and provide financial aid, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Jersey would be the fourth.

Christie also argued that the New Jersey legislation would give young illegal immigrants a benefit that isn't even available to U.S. citizens. He said that if an illegal immigrant from outside the state attended a New Jersey school for three years, the bill would allow for him or her to get in-state tuition, while a U.S. citizen from outside the state in the same situation wouldn't get that benefit.

"So that’s an inequity that is pretty easily cleared up and cleaned up, and they’ve refused to do that," Christie said of the state legislature.

Christie also said that the legislation needs to only apply to illegal immigrants who were in the United States by 2012, so that it doesn't lead to more illegal immigration in the future.

Absent those changes, he said, "I won’t sign it. And so I don’t think this is any different position than I've had all along. I am for tuition equality as I said that night at the Latino Leadership Alliance. I am for tuition equality. I am not for adding tuition aid grants."

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Aaron Blake · December 2, 2013