Latino Council urges support of tuition bill
The Latino Student Council did not give up when they learned the In-State Tuition Act they have been advocating for more than a year did not even reach the governor's desk.
Instead, they plan to bring the bill — which aims to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition — before the University Board of Governor's this semester, hoping the governing body could approve the bill University-wide, said Jorge Casalins, political chair of the Latino Student Council.
Because Gov. Chris Christie already said he would veto the bill, Casalins said the council will ask the University to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition by simply providing proof that they have been living in New Jersey for one year, something he says has been done by Bergen County College's board of governors.
The Rutgers University Student Assembly approved the resolution in April, said Casalins, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
"We believe that if you're living in-state you shouldn't have to pay out-of-state rates," said RUSA President Yousef Saleh. "We want the administration to take a more vocal approach. We want them to have a more vocal endorsement of it."
Undocumented students currently pay out-of-state tuition, priced at $21,682, while in-state tuition is priced at $9,926, according to the University Admissions' website. Both rates exclude fees and room and board rates.
Casalins said most undocumented students are not attending college because of these high rates, and they cannot receive any form of financial aid.
Allowing these students to attend the University at the in-state tuition rate would bring more money into the University because more people would be able to afford it, he said.
"At this moment, undocumented students are not attending the University at a high rate because they cannot afford it," Casalins said. "This would open up [the University] to more students."
But Shirley Weitz, the University's associate general counsel, said the University does not have the right to approve the bill. It is a state policy for undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition, and the University is a state-run institution, she said.
New Jersey Administrative Code 9A:5, which requires that individuals be a resident of the state for 12 months before becoming eligible for in-state tuition, governs the University's policy on legal residency, according to the University Admissions' website.
"We are governed by the statue. The statute is what is actually passed by the legislature," said Weitz. "The department of higher education promulgates regulations that essentially translate what the legislature says. There basically are two forms of tuition: In-state and out-of-state, and Rutgers does not have any power to change that."
According to the policy, individuals who are domiciled in New Jersey for at least 12 months are presumed to be legal residents of the state for tuition purposes. But Weitz said there is an important distinction between domicile and residency that people tend to overlook.
"Individuals who don't have the permanent right to remain in the United States — and that includes legal aliens as well as undocumented aliens — cannot be domiciled in any state in the United States until they actually have the permanent right to remain in the United States," she said.
Weitz said there have been bills submitted to the legislature to provide in-state tuition for any student regardless of documentation status who graduated from a New Jersey high school, but it excludes immigrants who are in the process of obtaining legal status.
"Ironically, the legislation that has been proposed would exclude legal aliens. So in other words, if an individual's parents are waiting for a green card — at least in the bills I have seen — those individuals would be excluded," she said.
Saleh, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said if a student has been a New Jersey resident and attended school in the state, the fact that they are still undocumented should not hinder their opportunity to achieve a higher education at a more affordable rate.
"If they're making the necessary arrangements to become a U.S. citizen and they've attended school in New Jersey, then we feel they should be given in-state tuition rates," he said.
The council still hopes to raise more awareness about the resolution, which passed in 10 other states, including New York and California.
Casalins said the council just wants to speak up for those affected but are not completely aware of the issues with the out-of-state tuition policy.
"A lot of them don't even know that they're undocumented when they are brought here by their parents, and I'm not just talking about Latinos," he said. "A lot of times they can't speak up for themselves. It's kind of our job to speak up for those who don't have a voice."
— Neil P. Kypers contributed to this article.