EDITORIAL: All must be eligible for state college aid

NJ confronts constraints, equal opportunity of undocumented residents

In 1982, the Supreme ruled in Plyler v. Doe that states did not have a compelling interest to deny access to kindergarten through 12th-grade public education on the basis of immigration status, and required states to extend the provision of public education to all students. 

While the Court did not declare education as a fundamental right in the ruling, the opinion of the Court determined that "public education has a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage, the deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual and psychological well-being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement."

Even though the ruling was only limited to kindergarten through 12th grade, it opened up broader consideration of unrestricted access to education and self-improvement. “Without an education … undocumented children, already disadvantaged as a result of poverty, lack of English-speaking ability, and undeniable racial prejudices … will become permanently locked into the lowest socio-economic class," said Justice William Brennan in the majority opinion.

In recognition of the constraints still present in a system that restricts access to public education with a ceiling at 12th grade, New Jersey has extended eligibility for state financial aid to undocumented immigrants. Since they already had a right to primary and secondary education under federal law and eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges under New Jersey law, the extension of access to state financial aid is simply a means to uphold the values outlined in Plyler v. Doe and enshrined in our nation’s vision of opportunity. 

Last fall, 513 undocumented immigrants received $1.6 million through the new state program, according to the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA). Well below the expected expenditure of $2.5 million per semester, opponents of the program still argue that those without legal citizenship should not be eligible for these benefits. This critique is often built on the false idea that undocumented immigrants do not contribute to public funds and evade taxes. 

In order for these undocumented students to file the New Jersey Alternative Financial Aid Application, they had to have attended a New Jersey high school for at least three years, graduated from a New Jersey high school or received an equivalent diploma in New Jersey, registered for the Selective Service System if the applicant is male, signed an affidavit requiring they file an application for naturalization when eligible and, in order to receive state financial aid, provided proof that their family has filed tax returns or have payed taxes on their wages.

"In order for students to qualify for New Jersey state aid, upon request, applicants must provide proof of verifiable income, such as U.S. tax return transcripts, IRS wage statements or proof of income through a federal or state agency," according to a statement from the HESAA.

Showing a commitment to all residents of the state, Rutgers enrolled the most undocumented immigrants receiving state financial aid out of all New Jersey colleges. The promises of social mobility and economic opportunity must extend to all in this nation. The program, resulting by a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) last year, makes New Jersey 1 of less than 12 states in the nation to offer college financial assistance to DREAMers. 

The children brought to America by their parents without authorization ought not be shackled to a destitute status of disadvantages and obstacles. An economy grows with the growth of an educated population. America develops with the development of its inhabitants. Depriving education pulls at the seams that hold our collective nation exceptionality together.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff. 

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