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“Higher Education Citizenship Equality Act” to Benefit Children of Undocumented Parents Passes Assembly

With the goal to provide equal access to college for legal New Jersey citizens with undocumented parents, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Raj Mukherji and Mila Jasey passed the full Assembly on Monday, 71-2.

The bill (A-3836) would provide that a student is eligible for a State student loan, grant or scholarship if they meet certain criteria. Students must be a U.S. citizen; have lived in New Jersey for no less than 12 months prior to the academic year; and have a parent who can provide either a State or federal tax return, or evidence of income tax withholding, such as a pay stub.

“By denying first generation Americans equal access to higher education, we deprive our State of the ingenuity and leadership they bring,” said Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Education remains an important means of economic mobility, empowering every students to achieve the American Dream. By codifying this policy into law, we give all citizens equal access to the quality education New Jersey’s colleges and universities provide.”

In 2013, New Jersey passed the “New Jersey Dream Act” to allow immigrant students without legal status to receive in-state tuition rates. The law was amended last year to permit these students to be eligible for financial aid.

This bill takes the next step in clarifying that a student’s residency, not his or her parents’, is under consideration for eligibility for state financial assistance, grants and scholarships.

“It’s no secret that children of undocumented parents face tremendous obstacles, despite many being born in the United States,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson).  “Students should not be penalized for their parents’ immigration status over which they had no control. We cannot forget that these citizen students are New Jersey residents, and every New Jerseyan should be equally entitled to pursue any educational opportunity they wish in order to better equip them to contribute to society.”

“It is unfair and unjust for New Jersey to deny tuition assistance to a resident who is living here legally,” said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). “It has happened in the past, but I am hopeful this measure will rectify the situation once and for all. New Jersey prides itself on our being a state of equal opportunity, and we must take all necessary steps to promote access to opportunity.”

The measure would take effect immediately and first apply to the first full academic year following the date of enactment. It now heads to the Senate for further review.