This January, college students across the state joined with immigration activists in launching a campaign to eliminate tuition disparity for illegal immigrants. The NJ DREAM Act Coalition and New Jersey United Students held their first rally in Trenton. On the Statehouse steps, the activists publically backed several controversial pieces of legislation that are being debated in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly. At the rally, immigrant students gave testimonials about their experiences, and the Coalition handed out pamphlets describing their hopes for "tuition equality" in state universities. Students are hoping to raise awareness about the barriers that currently prevent illegal immigrants from pursuing college degrees, which can adversely affect their future careers and lifestyles, New Jersey immigration attorneys say.
Currently, New Jersey law does not require students to identify themselves as an illegal immigrant on a college application. However, students must provide a current, legal address at a New Jersey residence if they wish to apply for financial aid and qualify for the in-state tuition rate. Out-of-state tuition for state colleges and universities is nearly double that of in-state costs. Immigrants who cannot prove legal residence are often deterred from applying, knowing the out-of-state tuition cost will be high. New Jersey immigration attorneys report that the pending legislation could lower tuition costs for these students, allowing them access to higher education.
A1659 and S2355, two bills up for debate in the state Assembly and Senate, respectively, seek to make provisions for immigrants in New Jersey who want to pursue their college degrees. If these bills are passed, then illegal immigrants who meet the following requirements would be eligible for in-state tuition at New Jersey colleges:
- Spend three years in a New Jersey state high school
- Formally declare intent to become a U.S. citizen as soon as legally possible
At the New Jersey Institute of Technology last year, a full semester's tuition for an in-state student was $7,370; out-of-state tuition totaled $13,570.
If these bills are passed, the Coalition hopes that more illegal immigrants will choose to attend college and remain in the U.S. as productive thinkers and workers. The New Jersey immigration lawyers at Helmer, Conley and Kasselman, PA are keeping their eyes on this pending legislation, and hope that the passage of these bills will mark a step forward in education and tuition equality for immigrants living in New Jersey.