GOP Candidate for NJ Governor Against Driver's Licenses, In-State Tuition for the Undocumented

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

NJ gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie at a Parsippany town hall this weekend. (Photo: Christie campaign)

NJ gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie at a Parsippany town hall this weekend. (Photo: Christie campaign)

The leading contender for the Republican nomination in the New Jersey gubernatorial campaign is opposing an immigration panel’s recommendations that the state extend licenses to drivers regardless of their immigration status and allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates.

Former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, however, was careful in his statements last weekend at a Parsippany town hall not to dish out the hardline rhetoric that has come to be expected from Republican candidates on the issue of immigration. Such rhetoric did not work well for them in last year’s elections, when most hardline candidates for Congress lost their races.

Christie said he was opposed to the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigration Policy, appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine in 2007, and whose report sparked a heated debate a couple of weeks ago. The Parsippany audience applauded his remarks warmly, New York newspaper El Diario/La Prensa reported Tuesday.

But when an audience member asked him what he would do as governor about undocumented immigrants, Christie stopped short of attacking the immigrants themselves.

Fred Snowflack, editorial page editor of local newspaper The Daily Record, narrated:

… Christie stepped back, or rather, stepped away from dishing up the “illegals should be kicked out of the country” verbiage so popular these days in conservative circles.

He said it’s important not to “demagogue this issue.” He added, “We can’t make these people villains.”

It was the United States government, after all, that let them into the country. That means, he said, that illegals are entitled to such basic services as medical care for serious illnesses.

“I don’t want people dying in the street,” he said, admitting that, yes, extending hospital care to illegals costs money.

As for not providing such services to illegals, Christie said, “That would be contrary to what we are as a party and as a people. Our Republican Party is a caring and compassionate party.”

This was not the first time Christie spoke in opposition to measures that would favor undocumented immigrants. (Corzine has said he favors in-state tuition for the undocumented, but not the driver’s license proposal.) When the panel published its report, the Republican issued a statement criticizing it:

“Providing drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants in these dangerous times is a clear national security risk,” Christie said, referring to the panel. “And Governor Corzine’s support of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants when his budget slashes property tax relief and increases taxes on so many New Jerseyans is astonishing.”


Christie’s latest remarks, however, show an awareness that the immigration issue can backfire for hardline candidates. Particularly in a state where about one-in-five residents is foreign-born.


  1. Funny Truth

    The Immigration Policy Center (IPC) has released a wide-ranging review of academic and government data that shows what legalizing undocumented immigrants would mean for the U.S. economy today. Legalizing undocumented workers would improve wages and working conditions for all workers, and increase tax revenues for cash-strapped federal, state, and local governments. (April 13, 2009)

    Washington, D.C. – The dollars and cents of immigration reform make a lot of sense for the beleaguered U.S. economy. The net economic gain would be $66 billion in new state and federal revenue, according to a new report.

    The review, from the nonpartisan Immigration Policy Center, notes that Florida is one of the states with the most to gain if undocumented workers were provided a pathway to legal status. About 500,000 immigrant workers would be affected.

    Economist David Kallick with the Fiscal Policy Institute contributed to the study. Right now, he explains, those billions of dollars are lining the pockets of employers – who hire folks in the underground economy and avoid contributing to payroll and other taxes.

    “The cost of the underground economy to taxpayers is pretty substantial. The idea is, bringing undocumented immigrants into the ‘above-ground’ economy and making sure that they pay taxes just like everyone else.”

    Critics of reform accuse undocumented workers of “stealing” American jobs; some want to deport everyone who is in the U.S. illegally. Kallick argues that immigrants do not steal good-paying jobs, and more legal workers in the labor pool will help grow the entire economy.

    That’s also the view of Esther Lopez, director of civil rights and community action for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union International. She says labor groups see that legalization is good for all workers, and she considers it an important step in rebuilding the middle class.

    “We need an immigration system that is part of our national economic recovery program. We need immigration reform that punishes employers who ‘game’ the system to drive down wages and working conditions.”

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