New Jersey Senate approves DREAM Act
The New Jersey State Senate approved legislation yesterday by a vote of 25 to 12 that would allow undocumented youth brought to the United States as children to pay in-state tuition rates and qualify for state aid, according to a news release from New Jersey State Democrats.
The bill, S2479, was sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3, Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-29, Sen. Nellie Pou, D-35, and Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham, D-31. According to the news release, Sweeney said the bill is the best pathway to achieving the American dream.
“We have a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt. Higher education cannot continue to be a luxury,” he said in the release. “College is an economic necessity and every family in New Jersey should be able to afford it. Every family. This legislation will allow every child the opportunity to achieve the American dream.”
Currently, 16 states have provisions allowing in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, and 14 states provide these rates through state legislation, according to the news release.
In order to pay in-state tuition for public institutions of higher education and receive aid, a student must attend high school in state for three years or more, graduate from a New Jersey high school or attain the equivalent of the diploma and register in a public institution no earlier than the fall 2013 semester.
If students do not have documentation, they must file an affidavit stating they filed for an application for legal immigration status, according to the news release.
If the legislation passes through the assembly and Gov. Chris Christie signs the bill, eligibility for student financial aid programs would take effect in the 2014 to 2015 academic year.
Giancarlo Tello, a Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences senior and undocumented student, has actively pushed for the passing of the bill. He believes the efforts of students, through phone banking, lobbying and writing news releases, have strongly influenced this legislative decision.
“A coalition of progressive organizations around New Jersey ... have been the ones to be at the forefront of this fight, and I think any legislator that you talk to will tell you the same thing,” he said.
Margarita Rosario, cofounder of the Rutgers University Tuition Equity Coalition, said RUTE, Anakbayan New Jersey, the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition and New Jersey United Students began organizing for the bill in Trenton last January.
RUTE and NJUS recruited Cunningham and Ruiz to cosponsor the bill, she said.
Rosario said organizing was more challenging than the coalition had planned. Yet the bill passed through the Senate without any major amendments.
“There was a question over whether state aid would be an appropriate addition to the bill,” she said. “We thought, as organizers, without state aid, undocumented students would not be able to attend college because the in-state tuition rates are still very high.”
Since a large bipartisan majority of the state Senate approved the bill, both Tello and Rosario believe it will easily pass through the assembly. Tello said Christie has previously shown support for the bill and is likely to sign for its approval.
“It’s been a crazy but beautiful experience,” Tello said. “Youth coalitions forming around the state ... it’s been amazing seeing people from all walks of life come together for an issue on equality.”