N.J. Senate leader says Dream Act vote set for Monday

 New Jersey is considering offering in-state tuition prices at its public universities to undocumented immigrants. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

New Jersey is considering offering in-state tuition prices at its public universities to undocumented immigrants. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney said the full Senate will vote Monday on a bill granting in-state tuition rates to students brought to the country illegally as children.

The Tuition Equality Act (A4225), known as the New Jersey DREAM Act, will go before the Senate Budget Committee Thursday as part of a renewed push for the legislation that foundered in June. Undocumented immigrants now can enroll in New Jersey’s public colleges, but they are charged the out-of-state tuition rate.

“My hope is that the DREAM Act gets passed out of both houses and is on the governor’s desk in December so kids don’t have to pay another semester at an increased rate,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. Two versions of the tuition bill have already passed in the state Assembly.

The bill under consideration in the Senate would make students eligible for two tuition grant programs to help low-income families. The Assembly has passed one bill that includes the tuition assistance and one without.

Activist Karol Ruiz would have benefited from a tuition break herself. Brought to the country by her parents in 1985, she became a citizen in 2011.

She and other organizers for in-state tuition for immigrants say they plan to pack the Thursday hearing before the Senate Budget Committee.

“On the macro level, we do need to address the access to higher education for everyone,” Ruiz said. “Just like everyone, else undocumented immigrants from working class families face the same challenges.”

Republican Gov. Chris Christie made comments in October that suggested a turnaround on the tuition bill he had previously opposed. In a debate against Democratic gubernatorial challenger Barbara Buono, Christie said, “What I always have said is that when economic times got better, that that would be one of the things that I would consider.”

“It’s time now — given that economic times are getting better and the state budget revenues are going up,” he said.

His office did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

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