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Ruiz, Cunningham & Pou Hail Signing of ‘DREAMers’ College Financial Aid Eligibility Bill

Governor’s Signature Opens Pathway for College Degrees

NEWARK – 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 today signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy.

“New Jersey has invested in all of our students throughout their K-12 academic careers,” said Senator Ruiz.  “To limit the ability of our DREAMers to attend college after their high school graduation does a disservice to them and the entire state.  “Today, we are fulfilling a promise made to our DREAMers, who only know New Jersey as their home, that they are entitled to the same financial opportunities as their peers to fulfill their higher education aspirations.  Whenever our state embraces the talents, intellect, creativity and determination of its youth, its future, like theirs’ becomes brighter and richer.”

“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 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.”

“DREAMers now have a wider path for achieving their life goals through a college education and creating a better life for their families,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic and Bergen). “I’m thrilled New Jersey has taken aggressive measures to do the right thing for these students.  It’s a major step up for all of us as the entire state stands hand in hand making dreams a reality.”

The new legislation directs 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 law, students are 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.

The New Jersey Policy Perspective reports that DACA recipients contribute approximately $1.6 billion every year to the Garden State’s 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 joins other states that have gone further to provide undocumented students access to financial aid.