This year, immigrants in New Jersey will be celebrating the passage of a fairly controversial piece of legislature, one that took several months to travel through the state’s governing bodies and gain approval from Gov. Chris Christie. The New Jersey Tuition Equality Act, which was passed in December 2013, will grant in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements. Immigration attorneys in New Jersey say that the new law will give young children hope for a more secure future.
The Tuition Equality Act, more commonly known as the NJ Dream Act, hopes to make college more accessible for anyone who cannot prove their American citizenship, but who have spent several years studying in New Jersey’s public schools. According to the law, any undocumented immigrants who have attended a state high school for three years, and earned their diploma or diploma equivalent such as a G.E.D, will be eligible for in-state tuition at all state colleges. As a compromise between Gov. Christie and several Democrats in the state Senate who supported the bill, the NJ Dream Act stipulates that immigrant students who qualify for in-state tuition will not be able to also access state financial aid programs to fund their college educations. The average in-state tuition rate for New Jersey state schools such as the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township is $11,620, compared to the out-of-state average of $19,292.
The passage of this law makes New Jersey the 18th state in the country to support tuition equality, along with Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota, who voted on similar bills last year. About 75,000 undocumented students will be eligible for the lower tuition rates, which immigration lawyers in New Jersey hope will ease the financial burden of receiving a quality education. In November of last year, immigrant students marched 150 miles over nine days across the state to show their support of the then-pending bill, which had received approval from the state Senate, but had not yet passed the governor’s desk. Supporters claimed that the change in law would affect some 11 million families in the state.
Lawmakers, citizens, and undocumented families living in the state who have supported New Jersey’s version of the Dream Act from the beginning say that allowing immigrant children the opportunity to access a college education will boost the state’s overall economy and provide much needed increases in tax revenue, job growth, and earning potential. The bill also provides a much-needed chance for students whose families came to America when they were very young, without any other options. These students will potentially be lifelong residents of New Jersey, and an improved education can bolster the state’s economy.
The immigration attorneys at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, say that this bill will improve the quality of life for children who may not have had a bright future available to them previously. At HCK, our attorneys offer advice, representation, and legal counsel for any immigrants living in New Jersey.