September 19, 2019 | 52° F

Undocumented student financial aid bill makes it onto Murphy's desk

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While he has not publicly commented on the bill during its time in the state legislature, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) campaigned in support of measures that further support the state’s undocumented community.

Advancing through both the New Jersey General Assembly and the New Jersey Senate, a bill to grant certain undocumented students access to financial aid services now sits on Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D-N.J.) desk.

Bill A3467 in the assembly, S699 in the Senate, passed in a 49-24 vote on Thursday, according to the New Jersey State Legislature. The Senate previously passed its identical version of the bill on March 26, in a 27-10 vote.

"This is the other piece of the puzzle if we really want to help these students succeed and contribute to society," said the bill’s primary sponsor Gary Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic), according to a press release. "Given the ever-escalating costs, many students, even with in-state tuition rates, are finding college more and more financially unattainable. Making this assistance available will make higher education a reality for these aspiring students."

If signed into law, the bill would allow students to apply to any financial aid program administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) or the Secretary of Higher Education, according to the press release. A student must meet requirements of the "Tuition Equality Act," or in the case of a student enrolled in an independent institution of higher education, must meet all requirements except to enroll in a public institution of higher education.

HESAA and the Secretary of Higher Education are tasked with establishing procedures and forms for students to use to access state student financial aid programs, according to the text of the bill.

These procedures and forms will be posted on the HESAA and Office of the Secretary of Higher Education websites, according to the press release.

"Opening our financial aid programs to more students will make affording a college education possible for more New Jersey families," said Annette Quijano (D-Union), another primary sponsor on the bill, according to the release. "Any student who has attended a New Jersey high school, received their diploma, and aims to clear up their immigration status should be allowed to apply for financial aid to help with college costs just as any other student in their graduating class."

 There are multiple requirements for student eligibility, according to the text of the "Tuition Equality Act."  

These include attending high school in New Jersey for three or more years, having graduated from a state high school or received an equivalent diploma, being registered as an entering student or being currently enrolled no earlier than the fall semester of the 2013 to 2014 academic year and, for students without lawful immigration status, filing an affidavit with their college.

The affidavit must state the student has filed an application to legalize their immigration status or will file an application as soon as they are eligible to do so, according to the "Tuition Equality Act."

The vote was largely along party lines. It was met with strong opposition from some opponents of the bill, according to NJ Advance Media.

"Treating non-citizens better than citizens, I think, is fundamentally wrong," said Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris), according to NJ Advance Media. "… This is just another pot to subsidize non-citizens and take away from the citizens in the state."

Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-Middlesex) was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, according to USA Today.

During his campaign to become the state’s 56th governor, Murphy said he would support measures to further in-state financial aid for DREAMers, according to USA Today. Since then, the governor has not indicated what his decision will be on the law.

USA Today reported that before the vote his office said the governor "does not comment on specific or pending legislation until it reaches his desk for signature" in a brief statement.

If he does sign the legislation, the Garden State will join eight other states that offer financial aid to undocumented students, according to USA Today. Those states are California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, New Mexico and HawaiI.

"We can do more for the New Jersey DREAMers to help them achieve their higher education goals," said primary sponsor Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris), according to the press release. "With this bill, we continue to invest in their education and make it possible for them to attain their college goals here in New Jersey."

Ryan Stiesi

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