The New Jersey Senate has approved charging the in-state college tuition rate to students brought to the United States illegally as children.

The vote on the Tuition Equality Act, often referred to as the New Jersey Dream Act, followed a debate on the Senate floor.

Sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, urged her colleagues to give the non-citizen students access to lower in-state tuition charges and to state grants.

"This, to me, is about fairness and equity. It's about accessibility," she said. "And, most importantly, it's about engaging in a conversation that, when we talk about making this Garden State stronger, that this is precisely one of those variables in the equation to ensuring that."

Opponents, including Sen. Bob Singer, R-Ocean, argued the new rules could end up displacing citizen residents.

"Let's understand something: We're pushing other children out," he said. "If you think not, rethink it."

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, responded heatedly to that criticism.

"To put one class against another, it's just I can't believe we're talking that way," he said. "These are New Jerseyans and they want to go to school here. And they have gone to school with our children."

In the end, the Senate voted 25-12 in support. An identical bill must pass in the Assembly before going to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature. So far, he's avoided saying whether he will sign the legislation.