A New Jersey college student’s immigration status will no longer play a factor into whether that student is eligible for certain in-state financial aid.
College students who are unauthorized immigrants in the state are already allowed to pay for their Garden State college classes at in-state rates. Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, gave thousands of students who grew up in New Jersey but are in the country illegally that ability in 2013.
Now, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, took the measure a step further when he signed a bill into law Wednesday that would let some of those students be eligible for financial aid — something Christie refused to go along with.
These students, who have to have applied to legalize their immigration status in to be eligible, could receive the aid as soon as this fall.
“This is the world’s melting pot where people in every part of the globe can come here in the hope of a new life,” Murphy said, celebrating the diversity at Rutgers University in Newark where he signed the bill.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz — a longtime advocate for so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children — hailed the bill’s passage after nearly a decade of work on the matter.
“New Jersey has invested in all of our students throughout their K-12 academic careers,” Ruiz, D-Essex, the bill’s sponsor said. “To limit the ability of our DREAMers to attend college after their high school graduation does a disservice to them and the entire state.”
The bill sparked controversy when it made its way through the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Republican lawmakers blasted the legislation as a measure that gives a leg up over New Jerseyans who are here in the state legally.
But Murphy brushed that criticism aside.
“Cmon,” Murphy said when pressed on the opponents’ argument.
“I’d even invite any of those folks who have that attitude, beginning with our president, to come on into this room and allow me or any of us to say, ‘This is the United States of America,” he said.
The measure’s proponents, including one of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, called it “the other piece of the puzzle” to help low-income New Jersey college students afford school.
“Making this assistance available will make higher education a reality for these aspiring students,” Schaer, D-Passaic, said.
Republican lawmakers blasted the legislation for appropriating aid that could go to New Jerseyans who are in the state legally.
“Treating non-citizens better than citizens, I think, is fundamentally wrong,” Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said.
The bill cleared the Assembly last month by a 49-24 vote, largely along party lines. It passed the Senate in March by a 27-10 vote, with three legislators not voting.