New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie denied Monday that he flip-flopped on his position before and after his landslide re-election victory on an important immigration issue in the state.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger hit Christie in a scathing op-ed for pulling support for a bill that would grant in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, but Christie said he has not, instead it is just aspects of the legislation that he disagrees with.
“I said the legislature should move in the lame duck session towards tuition equality in New Jersey. Period,” Christie said at a news conference. “That’s what I said. I didn’t support any particular piece of legislation. And I still support tuition equality.”
Immigration activists say Christie, who won 51 percent of the Hispanic vote last month, pledged his support for in-state tuition for undocumented students at the Latino Leadership Alliance gala in October.
“I believe every child should be able to give the opportunity to reach their God-given potential,” Christie said at the event, less than a month before his re-election win. “We need to make sure that we continue to work on issues that will make those children believe they have a bigger and brighter future. 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.”
However, in a radio interview last week, he said he would not support the bill, known as the New Jersey DREAM Act, passed in the Democratic-controlled state Senate because though it would allow undocumented students in New Jersey to qualify for in-state tuition at state schools it would also allow undocumented out-of-state residents to be eligible for in-state tuition if they attended an in-state private high school for at least three years.
“Giving undocumented, out-of-state students benefits that out of state citizens aren’t eligible for, I’m not in favor of,” Christie said. “So under the current piece of legislation, if you’re an undocumented student who lives in Pennsylvania, and you come over to go to private or parochial school in New Jersey, under this bill, you would then be entitled to, if you spent three years in that school, to in-state tuition. If you’re a citizen in Pennsylvania, and you come over, and spend three years, you’re not entitled to that.”
Christie called it an “inequity that is pretty easily cleared up and cleaned up,” but the state Senate has “refused to do that.”
However, the executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, Udi Ofer explains the legislation actually does not make a distinction between undocumented students and U.S. citizens. Instead, all students, no matter their immigration status, will pay state tuition as long as they attend a New Jersey high school for three years and graduate or receive a GED from a New Jersey high school.
“It is not true that out of state, undocumented students will be treated differently than out of state United States citizens,” Ofer told ABC News. “In fact in this legislation all students will be treated the same regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens or not.”
In the Star-Ledger op-ed, the newspaper said Christie was trying to appeal to Hispanic voters before his re-election, but is now switching his viewpoint because he is getting ready for a presidential campaign.
“The real reason for his flip-flop? Christie has his eyes on the presidency. And if he has to roll over Latinos to get there, he’ll do it,” the editorial reads.
He also said the state DREAM Act should be more in line with the president’s executive action that prevents for two years the deportation of any student seeking higher education as long as they were in the United States before 2012.
“We shouldn’t make our program an open ended commitment,” Christie said. “We should be in line with what the president has done, which is to cap it at 2012. Now, if they get to 2014, and they still don’t have federal immigration reform, then the president is going to have to make some judgment as to whether he wants to extend the executive action he took, and then New Jersey should react to that.”
At Tuesday’s news conference, which was called to announce Christie would be nominating his chief of staff to attorney general, as well as replacing him with a new chief of staff, Christie was also asked about the continued sniping from Kentucky senator and fellow Republican Rand Paul. Christie told the reporter “you have to ask Sen. Paul.”
“He’s a fine guy,” Christie said of Paul, despite their prolonged family feud. “I have no problems with him. I’ve met him once in my life. He seemed like a very nice guy, but I’ve got nothing more to say about Sen. Paul,” Christie said. “Why he’s saying that stuff you have to go down to Washington and ask him. I have no idea. I am not inside his mind.”
ABC News’ Nicole Rossoll contributed to this report.
This story has been updated since it was first posted.