By Brenda Flanagan
“There’s something. An opportunity for us to speak out,” said Giancarlo Tello.
And Tello did speak out. He’s one of the protesters who disrupted Gov. Christie’s town hall meeting demanding financial aid for so-called “DREAMers” — undocumented students who grew up in New Jersey and need help paying for college.
“They’re professional protesters.They are professional protesters,” Christie said.
Tello says he wanted to confront the governor.
“Make sure he hears our questions directly, face to face, that he knows the faces of the people he’s denying an education to,” Tello said.
“These kids are spending dollars here, they live here, they actually now get tuition equality. They should be afforded the right to make college affordable to them,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
Today Prieto stood with the DREAMers and fellow Democrats to announce his proposed legislation that would make these students eligible for financial aid — regardless of their immigration status.
“Right now the issue is not only affordability. It is also one of equality,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer.
“There are many other students that are giving up on their dreams because education is not accessible,” said DREAMer Hector Martinez.
Martinez says a year at Rutgers costs $25,000. That’s his dad’s entire salary.
“So if I wanted to go to that school, my father would have to give me all of his income — live on the streets — and then somehow or another I would have to survive on air and sunshine,” he said.
DREAMers claim that, while the governor did keep half his campaign promise — to sign a law granting them the right to pay in-state tuition rates — he reneged on the rest. Christie refused to make them eligible for financial aid. Democrats tried another tactic.
“We actually put it in the budget. That was line item vetoed and that’s why we’re here today,” Prieto said.
The U.S. faces multiple immigration crises — most recently, thousands of undocumented children streaming over the border from Mexico, some dying in the attempt. The president vowed executive action even if Congress refused to post reform bills for a vote. As the political stakes rise, what influence will they have on the New Jersey governor who’s looking at a run for the presidency?
“After being governor for five years, having them yell and scream at me doesn’t bother me one damn bit,” said Christie.
Only five states grant financial aid to undocumented college students. This bill’s supporters made sure to point out it’s revenue neutral — requires no additional funding. Instead, it would increase the pool of eligible applicants, which could decrease the amount everyone gets.