Ruiz, Cunningham & Pou Bill Providing ‘DREAMers’ College Financial Aid Eligibility Advances to Assembly

Measure would provide undocumented students access to financial aid

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz, Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Sandra Bolden Cunningham and Senator Nellie Pou to allow DREAMers to qualify for state financial aid programs to help cover the cost of attending an eligible higher education institution was approved today by the State Senate.

“We make significant investments in our DREAMers K-12 education, but once they graduate we act like they no longer exist,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “We started with the first step of providing in-state tuition rates to DREAMers, and now we are fulfilling the promise to provide financial assistance eligibility. These students are New Jerseyans and they are part of what makes our state great and our economy strong. Improving access to higher education with access to financial aid will create a stronger economy, a more educated workforce and a brighter future for all of us.”

“DREAMers are an integral part of our state, and for many of these young people it is the only home they’ve known. Improving access to college by allowing eligibility for financial aid programs, in addition to in-state tuition rates, is about doing the right thing for students who have worked hard to be successful and want nothing more than to attend college, get a job and continue contributing to our state,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “I am proud to sponsor this legislation and to be part of the effort to provide resources that are very necessary for our New Jersey student population, but will also benefit the entire state.”

“This will provide DREAMers with additional means to achieve their dreams of going to college, getting a degree and creating a better life for themselves and their families,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic and Bergen). “These kids know no other home than America. We must protect them. This is a major step forward for our state and I am thrilled that we are advancing this legislation and that New Jersey is taking such aggressive measures to make the lives of DREAMers better. By making their lives better, it makes all of us better.  I look forward to seeing this bill become law.”

The bill, S-699, would direct the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority and the Secretary of Higher Education to establish procedures and forms that enable eligible students to apply for, and participate in, the financial assistance programs allowing students including those without lawful immigration status to apply in any student financial aid programs administered by HESAA. Under the bill the student would be required to have attended high school in this State for three or more years; have graduated from a high school in this State or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in this State; register as an entering student or be currently enrolled in a public institution of higher education not earlier than the fall semester of the 2018-2019 academic year; and in the case of a person without lawful immigration status, file an affidavit with the institution of higher education stating that the student has filed an application to legalize their immigration status or would be filing an application as soon as they are eligible to do so.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, New Jersey has the ninth-highest number of DREAMers in the country with 22,024 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program through March 31, 2017. Out of the 77,000 undocumented immigrants in New Jersey, 51,000 are eligible for DACA. Eligibility depends on their age and/or date of arrival in the U.S. Anyone who had come to the U.S before the age of 16 or was under the age of 31 in June 2012, had some level of education and no criminal records was eligible to apply for DACA.

According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, DACA recipients contribute to the Garden State approximately $1.6 billion every year in its Gross Domestic Product and contribute $66 million in state and local taxes each year.

In December 2013, the Legislature passed and the governor signed legislation allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at the State’s public institutions of higher education. With this legislation, New Jersey would join other states that have gone further to provide undocumented students access to financial aid.

The bill was approved by a vote of 26-10.  It now heads to the Assembly for a consideration.