NJ Senate approves act for undocumented students


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Photo by Nisha Datt |

Students celebrate the first round of passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented youth to pay in-state tuition. The N.J. Senate approved the bill on Nov. 18 and submitted the legislation to Gov. Chris Christie.


The New Jersey State Senate approved legislation on Nov. 18 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.”

According to an Educators for Fair Consideration fact sheet, 2.1 million of the country’s 11.2 million undocumented immigrants are potentially eligible for the most recently proposed federal DREAM Act. Currently, 7,000 to 13,000 undocumented students are enrolled in colleges throughout the United States.

On Jan. 8, the Rally for Tuition Equity in Trenton served as a kick-off campaign for student groups’ and activists’ fight for the passing of the bill.

Later that month, The Rutgers University Student Assembly and New Jersey United Students announced that they would lead the campaign through grassroots efforts. One goal was to push University President Robert L. Barchi to sign off on the bill

“RUSA has taken a stand in favor of in-state tuition for all people on New Jersey,” said John Connelly, former president of RUSA. “If you attend a high school in the state, you should be able to be considered as an in-state student.”

At town-hall style meetings in February and April, Barchi asserted that he supported federal action, but believed the current state of the bill could yield undesirable consequences.

According to Pete McDonough, vice president of Public Affairs for Rutgers University, and Alex Perez, Rutgers’ assistant general counsel, Barchi called upon state and federal leaders to join in the bipartisan effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform and wrote to New Jersey’s congressional delegation about the issues undocumented students face.

On the other hand, Giancarlo Tello, an undocumented student and proponent of the bill, said he believes the efforts of students, through phone banking, lobbying and writing news releases, have strongly influenced this legislative decision.

Tello, a Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences senior, said since the bill received bipartisan support, he expects Gov. Chris Christie to sign off on the bill.

Yet in a Nov. 25 interview with NJ 101.5 FM, Christie said he would not sign the version of the DREAM Act approved by the Senate.

This generated heated responses from activists and the media alike, including a Star-Ledger editorial published Dec. 1 that accused Christie of backpedaling.

“The real reason for his flip-flop? Christie has his eyes on the presidency. And if he has to roll over Latinos to get there, he’ll do it,” the editorial reads.

Christie responded to this backlash in a news conference reported by ABC News, stating that he disagrees with current legislation, not the bill’s ideology.

“I said the legislature should move in the lame duck session towards tuition equality in New Jersey. Period,” Christie said at a news conference. “That’s what I said. I didn’t support any particular piece of legislation. And I still support tuition equality.”

According to nj.com, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, said the Assembly plans to amend the bill to match what the Senate has already passed.

The bill must be passed in the Assembly and signed by the governor before Jan. 14. If not, the bill would need to be reintroduced in both houses, according to the article.


By Alex Meier

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