STATE – Today, a group of New Jersey mayors released a letter of support for a plan allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition and state scholarships. The letter calls for both the Senate and Assembly to adopt and approve s. 2479 – the Senate version of the bill. Signers include mayors of three of the state’s largest four towns, and represent more than one million New Jersey residents.
New Jersey’s Democratically-controlled state legislature is currently grappling with details of the bill – which, last month, Gov. Chris Christie signaled he would sign. The legislation – known nationally as the DREAM Act – is scheduled for a committee hearing in the State Senate this Thursday, Nov. 14.
Mayors signing the letter include Luis Quintana of Newark, Steven Fulop of Jersey City, Christian Bollwage of Elizabeth, Alex Blanco of Passaic, Timothy Dougherty of Morristown, Wilda Diaz of Perth Amboy, Timothy Cahill of New Brunswick, Dana Redd of Camden, Mayor-elect Adrian Mapp of Plainfield and Mayor-elect Lester Taylor of East Orange.
“Tuition equity and assistance to qualified, undocumented immigrant college students is necessary to give our state the diverse, highly skilled workforce we need to win the future,” the letter states. Citing the “unfair punishment” of placing barriers to higher education for students whose immigration status is unresolved through no fault of their own, the letter also points to the “terrible waste of municipal, state and federal dollars previously spent educating these young Dreamers in our local schools.”
“New Jersey Mayors know this: The more we invest in students, the better our towns become for all residents,” said Giancarlo Tello, an undocumented student and member of the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition. “Students from across New Jersey appreciate this support and are ready to mobilize to ensure Governor Christie signs a bill that includes tuition equality and state assistance this year.”
The current version of the Senate bill – sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) – includes tuition equality and access to state aid for undocumented students. This is provided they meet eligibility requirements: such as three years in a New Jersey high school, as well as graduation from a New Jersey high school, or having obtained a GED in New Jersey. Students must also file an affidavit promising to legalize their status as soon as they can. In the case of state aid, there is already a requirement for all applicants to prove they are paying taxes, which makes them eligible for access to funds they are already paying into.
The Assembly bill – A.3509 – is not yet scheduled for action, although an Assembly committee approved a bill in June that cut the state aid. Students and mayors alike are urging the legislature to pass the comprehensive Senate bill that includes the state aid.
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