Conservative opposition to in-state tuition rates for illegals was what inspired Rick Perry at that 2011 debate to accuse his critics of being heartless. Christie won’t be that stupid, but he will be asked about this. The question: Will congressional Republicans have already rubber-stamped some more ambitious amnesty measure before 2015 that’ll suck up most of the oxygen on immigration at the next debates? My guess is oh yes, and Christie will naturally take a cautious line on it to calm border hawks on the one hand and to woo the Latino voters whose support he’s desperately trying to win to prove that he’s the Republican who can beat Democrats on their own turf.

He took a cautious line on New Jersey’s DREAM Act too, in fact:

Christie today plans to sign legislation that would allow unauthorized immigrants who graduated high school in New Jersey after attending for at least three years to be eligible for the lower in-state rates at public higher educational institutions, including in-county rates at community colleges.

But first, he’ll conditionally veto the bill (S2479) the Assembly plans to send him this afternoon. Christie will strike a provision that would make the students eligible for state financial aid programs, including Tuition Aid Grants (TAG). Democrats have agreed to concur with the conditional veto, sending it once again to Christie for his signature…

Christie also said he opposed part of the bill that would allow out-of-state students who went to high school in New Jersey to pay in-state tuition rates, regardless of their immigration status, and that he wanted the bill only to apply to students who came to the country by 2012. Sweeney, however, said he will not alter the bill any further.

An activist from one immigration group vowed that they’d remember that Christie gave them mere “crumbs” compared to what they asked for, which is a nice reminder that no matter how far the GOP bends to pander to amnesty shills, they’ll end up being demagogued for half-measures anyway. Speaking of which, an interesting data point from Pew’s new poll of Latinos and Asian-Americans. Is a path to citizenship for illegals really their highest priority on immigration? Or is it something else?

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Not surprising, really. Of course it’s a higher priority for illegals and sympathetic groups to end deportations than it is to expand avenues to citizenship. Most illegals come here to work, not to vote. In theory, as Benjy Sarlin says, that’s the makings of a grand compromise on immigration law: Grant legal status to illegals but bar them from becoming citizens. They can stay, they’ll earn better money than they would at home, and Republican fears of being overwhelmed by millions of new Democratic-leaning voters will be assuaged. Everybody wins! Except, er, Democrats, who insist on citizenship precisely because they want those millions of Democratic-leaning voters on the rolls. There may be a near-term compromise on this question, where Congress passes something that grants legalization/easily renewable work visas but omits any citizenship provisions. But that’s only the near term; by 2015, Democrats and immigration activists will sneer that legalization amounts to “crumbs” and they’ll pound the table for a path to citizenship. Republicans, terrified at alienating Latino voters again before another presidential election, will be torn apart about whether to do it or not. Which side, do you suppose, will Chris Christie take?

In other amnesty news, Bill Clinton says that immigration reform is the only way to keep America growing. I’m … pretty sure that’s not true. And if there’s anyone who would/should understand why it’s not true, it’s Bill Clinton.