State Tuition Programs Now Open for Dreamers

New Jersey Dreamers—students brought to the country as minors without documentation—will now have access to state aid at public and private colleges and universities. Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation May 9 after more than a decade of activism from immigration advocates.

“We can all rest easier today knowing that more students will have greater access to a college education,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, an AFT member as professor at Kean University and chair of the Latino Action Network Foundation. “This is a victory for knowledge over ignorance.”

New Jersey is the tenth state in the nation to offer state financial aid to DACA and undocumented students. Governor Christie vetoed the part of the bill that would have given Dreamers access to state financial aid back in 2013, although he approved the portion to charge them in-state tuition.

“Today New Jersey has taken a bold step to stand up for undocumented students like me at a moment when the federal government would rather deport us then see us graduate from college,” said high school senior Erika Martinez, youth leader at Make the Road New Jersey, in a release from the group.

Under the law, a student demonstrating financial need who has attended high school in New Jersey for at least three years, graduated or received an equivalent diploma from a state high school is eligible to apply for any student financial aid program administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) or the Secretary of Higher Education.

Rutgers University has hundreds of undocumented students. “Our students benefit directly, but we all are impacted in positive and meaningful ways when opportunity is available to all,” said Patrick Nowlan, Executive Director of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which actively participated in the coalition advocating this legislation and in favor of other immigrants rights.

The local has called on university to make their campus a sanctuary for undocumented students , accompanied a Dreamer student to her immigration hearing to resist detention or deportation and joined with AFT and AFTNJ in resolutions and protests calling for a clean Dream Act and continuance of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

While federal legislation is still actively being debated in Congress and the outcome is uncertain, New Jersey Dreamers can benefit from their new tuition eligibility as soon as this fall semester.

Murphy called the new legislation “good public policy,” and he said the state’s “Dreamers” are “just as much New Jerseyans” as his four children.

Nowlan pointed out that Dreamers are also now eligible to receive dedicated counseling through programs like the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF). “The support EOF students have been receiving for the past 50 years has resulted in far better outcomes,” said Nowlan. “In addition to the critically important state financial aid dollars, it is appropriate that we expand EOF access to Dreamers to help them succeed in school.”