Students share stories of tuition burdens
Former University student Piash Worthing did not know he was an undocumented immigrant until after graduating in the top 5 percent of his high school class and receiving a letter of acceptance from the University.
Worthing, who immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh at the age of 10, now attends Middlesex County College, because the out-of-state tuition rate the University required he pay was too expensive.
"I was a minor when my parents brought me here," he said. "I had no choice. I took 12 credits my first year, and that pretty much bankrupted me."
Worthing's story is common for many young people across the state, a situation the Latino Student Council is fighting to change.
About 50 students from the University attended a panel discussion on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act and in-state tuition last night in the main lounge of Frelinghuysen Hall on the College Avenue campus.
The event, titled "The Faces of the DREAM: Not Just a Latino Thing," was a panel discussion of the issue of whether undocumented students who can prove long-term residency in New Jersey should pay the same tuition rates as U.S. citizens who live in the state.
"The purpose of the program is to educate people," said council political chair Jorge Casalins. "Number one: It's not just a Latino issue. Number two: It's an ongoing fight."
When it comes to in-state tuition for undocumented students, New Jersey is an ambivalent state, meaning each institution in the state may implement its own policies, said Casalins, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
The group wants University President Richard L. McCormick to adopt the policy here, a decision its members hope he will make when they meet with him today at noon.
Casalins said he wanted the event to be an opportunity for students to see the issue of in-state tuition as less abstract.
"That's a big problem that we've had," he said. "We talk about the undocumented population as just a number, but you don't really see a face. When you see an actual student and they talk about their hardships and what they've had to go through, it really hits home."
Rutgers Union Estudiantil Puertorriquena Political Chair Shereen Hassanein mirrored that sentiment.
Marisol Conde-Hernandez is another one of the affected.
"I can only pay for, here at Rutgers, maybe six credits at most and even then, I'm barely breathing," she said. "If something like this passed in New Jersey, it would significantly alleviate stress."
Ten states across the country have in-state tuition policies, including California, where the Supreme Court upheld its policy yesterday, Casalins said.
"It just suggests that the federal government is out of the courts on this," said Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, of the Reformed Church in Highland Park, also on the panel.
Journalists for Human Rights President Talissa Patrick, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, called the state's status a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"You can get the same [K-12] education, you can put in the same work, but unless you have the papers … they say you can't get an education," she said.
Kaper-Dale said the in-state tuition issue reaches beyond undocumented students and affects the nation as a whole.
"I'm thrilled to see there's advocacy on the local level," Kaper-Dale said. "We're making this decision for the betterment of society as we move forward."
Conde-Hernandez agreed with Kaper-Dale's idea that this issue affects all Americans.
"Think about how much American taxpayers — and my parents included in that group as well — invested in educating me through public school systems," she said. "You're not going to get a single penny of a return in your investment."
The New Jersey In-State Tuition Bill, which failed to reach the Senate floor in January, would have permitted students who have lived in the state for at least three years to pay the in-state tuition rate at public colleges and universities, regardless of citizenship status.
Gov. Chris Christie has voiced opposition in the past to granting the privilege to undocumented students.
"We live off of hope — that's our breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack," Conde-Hernandez said. "[But] there's going to be a time in which hope just won't cut it."
This is first event the council has hosted regarding in-state tuition since September's In-State Tuition Week, Casalins said.
Co-sponsors for the event included La Unidad Latina, Rutgers Union Estudiantil Puertorriquena, Latinos Entering Government and Law, Lambda Upsilon Lambda, the Latin Images Special Interest Floor and Journalists for Human Rights.