"I don't understand why they would take taxpayer dollars that could be going to U.S. citizens and instead subsidizing the education of noncitizens who could also be deported," said Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas who has litigated immigration-related cases. "Why would you subsidize a workforce that may not be there tomorrow?"
Kansas passed a law in 2004 that granted the in-state tuition benefit to students living in the country illegally.
Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana bar the in-state benefit altogether, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. In Wisconsin, in-state tuition was authorized in 2009, but later repealed.
Politicians have taken heat on both sides.
In the 2012 Republican presidential primary, Texas Gov. Rick Perry ended up apologizing after saying critics of in-state tuition for students in the country illegally "did not have a heart." In last year's gubernatorial race in Virginia, GOP Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was dogged during his unsuccessful campaign by a vote opposing the in-state tuition benefit earlier in his career.
Christie agreed to sign the New Jersey bill only after issuing a conditional veto that took out the financial aid component.
"It definitely felt great that now a lot of 'dreamers' in New Jersey, including myself, will be able to return to school, but at the same time it feels like we were lied to by Gov. Christie, who when he was campaigning, said he was going to give full equality to the Latino community," Tello said.
He was campaign manager for the New Jersey Tuition Equity for Dreamers, and said he dropped out of college after attending part-time for three semesters because of the cost. Out-of-state tuition at Rutgers is about $24,700 compared with about $10,700 for an in-state student. Full-time students also pay nearly $3,000 in fees, in addition to room and board.
On the day he signed the bill, Christie explained his decision this way: "This is what compromise looks like." Christie said the important thing is that these students will now have an "affordable" way to continue their education.
About 65,000 students living illegally in the country graduate annually from high school and about 5 percent to 10 percent of them go to college, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities has estimated.
Daniel Hurley, an official with the association, said even when these students are able to get a college degree, their future work prospects are limited.
"They are caught in the limbo," Hurley said. "It's certainly frustrating to see."
A look at the fifteen states that have statutes allowing students who are in the United States without legal permission and were brought to this country as children by their parents to be eligible for in-state tuition:
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
Follow Kimberly Hefling on Twitter at http://twitter.com/khefling
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