We, the undersigned, write to express support for NJ A1659/S2355 and A3509/S2479. New Jersey’s A1659/S2355 would allow all students who attended a high school in New Jersey for at least three years, and graduated or received an equivalent degree, to qualify for in-state/resident rates at New Jersey’s public institutions of higher education, regardless of immigration status. A3509/S2479 would follow the same model but also allow those who applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals access to state aid.
These bills are New Jersey-centered policies that provide opportunities in the spirit of the Federal DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is a federal bill that would provide a path towards citizenship for certain undocumented immigrant youth that entered the U.S. as children, and that either complete a minimum of two years of a college education or serve the U.S. military for at least two years.
The United States is home to approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants. In New Jersey, we are home to the fifth-largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country. They are part of the 21% of New Jerseyans that are foreign-born. The undocumented immigrant population in New Jersey makes up 6.2% of the total state population, making it the fourth-highest rate in the nation.
The unauthorized population, although heavily scapegoated for the economic recession and instability, actually contribute financially to the country. Specifically, in New Jersey unauthorized immigrants make up 8.6% of the state’s workforce and paid $446.1 million in state and local taxes in 2010. If all unauthorized immigrants in New Jersey were deported, the state would lose $24.2 billion in economic activity.
Nationally, of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants, an estimated 1 million are under the age of 18, attending primary and secondary schools; an additional 1 million entered the country as minors and are now adults, having spent a substantial part of their lives in the United States. In the case Plyer vs. DOE (1982), the United States Supreme Court ruled that every child in the United States has access to attend public primary and secondary schools regardless of immigration status.
Unauthorized immigrants are legally allowed to attend colleges in New Jersey. However, despite having grown up in New Jersey, they do not qualify as residents of the State of New Jersey. This means that these students pay out-of-state, as opposed to in-state or in-county, rates of tuition. They are also barred from obtaining all public financial aid, both federal and state. Their lack of U.S. documentation also often disqualifies the students from receiving most scholarships. As it stands, many college students who are U.S. Citizens already grapple with skyrocketing tuition, dwindling financial resources to afford a university education, and exponentially growing debt. Combined with the additional challenges facing undocumented youth, New Jersey’s current policies effectively bar thousands of young people in New Jersey from attending institutions of higher education after graduating from high schools. The aforementioned bills, A1659/S2355 and A3509/S2479, would address these current inequalities.
A3509/S2479 permits eligibility for resident rates if the same requirements are met but also allow acces to state aid if the applicants have applied for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Deferred Action is an administrative order announced on June 15th, 2012, that allows DREAM Act-eligible youth to obtain protection from deportation and eligibility for a work permit for a period of two years. Immigrant youth are still undocumented, even if granted Deferred Action, as it does NOT confer any legal status, and therefore, they are still ineligible for all federal and state benefits. While Deferred Action is a step forward, it only provides protection from deportation; it does not increase the educational opportunities for these students.
The proposed policies are not new; fourteen states already have in-state tuition policies. New Jersey is behind on providing tuition equity for its young immigrant population. We are home to the seventh-highest number of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries. We cannot afford to let thousands of immigrant youth in our state continue to drop out of high school because the goal of a college education seems unattainable or unaffordable. We cannot afford to deprive immigrant youth the opportunity to pay the same rate at public universities as their resident peers for a legal predicament they had no control over. We need as many college-educated young people in our state to give us a competitive edge, nationally and globally, and to thereby invest back MORE into the state economy.
We stand with college students and immigrant youth in New Jersey, and ask you to join us by supporting New Jersey bills A1659/S2355 and A3509/S2479.