An Assembly committee approved new legislation Thursday designed to provide college aid to undocumented immigrants.

Assembly Chambers
Assembly Chambers (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

The approval comes one year after Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law allowing certain undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates. In 2013, Christie and Democratic leaders reached a compromise to remove a clause in the bill that also would have offered the same undocumented immigrants state aid to help pay for their higher education.

"We have the opportunity to allow all children in this state now to go to college and to go to college in an affordable manner. It provides opportunity and it makes New Jersey the kind of place that all of us want to live in," said bill co-sponsor, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic).

One of Christie's concerns last year was that signing the bill into law would make New Jersey a "magnet state" for foreign-born students from other states. What makes Schaer think that the governor will support his bill the second time around?

"I think that we've learned from all of our history that compromises that were made in the past can be changed in the future," Schaer said. "Not to agree to this bill means precluding a thousand, two thousand young men and women from achieving the same dream that all of us have for all of our children."

The money to support expanding aid programs would come from an existing fund which would not be enlarged under Schaer's legislation. He said while no legal New Jersey citizens would get squeezed out by making undocumented immigrants eligible, they would receive slightly less state aid. He called the amount, "de minimis."

Any student who is eligible for in-state tuition would also be eligible for state financial aid under the bill. The measure is co-sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) and Assembly members Gordon Johnson (D-Teaneck) and Annette Quijano (D-Union).

"Many families are being priced out of college. These students are simply asking for the same aid that is afforded to all students who want to attend college in the state," Prieto said in a press release. "Who benefits from hindering a student who wants to continue his or her education?"

When Christie conditionally vetoed the bill last year before the compromise deal was struck some said he was treating undocumented immigrants like second-class citizens. The governor disagreed.

"You can't be a second-class citizen if you're not a citizen in the first place," said Christie when he signed the revised bill. "I'm sorry, but they're getting a lot more than they've ever gotten before."

The fiscal year 2015 budget approved by the Legislature included a provision to extend state financial aid assistance to undocumented students, but it was line item vetoed out by the governor.

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