As NJ Passes DREAM Bill, NY Dreamers Wonder: What About Us?

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy shakes the hand of student Maria del Cielo Mendez. (Photo from the Office of the Governor via El Diario)

On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that will improve the prospects of thousands of immigrants in the Garden State, who will now be able to obtain financial aid to complete their college studies.

After only five months in office, the Democrat has fulfilled one of his campaign promises, yet again raising the question: Why hasn’t New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo across the Hudson River done the same?

The New York DREAM Act was approved by the State Assembly for the seventh time on Feb. 5, and the final decision is in the hands of the Senate and Gov. Cuomo.

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The new law will benefit students showing financial need who have attended high school in New Jersey for at least three years, graduated high school or received an equivalent [of a high school] diploma, and is enrolled in a New Jersey college and has filed an affidavit [stating they will file an application to legalize their immigration status or will file an application as soon as they are eligible to do so].

“Today, New Jersey has taken a brave step to defend undocumented students like me at a moment when the federal government would rather deport us than see us graduate from college,” said Erika Martínez, a young leader with Make the Road New Jersey and a high school senior.

The law will grant New Jersey Dreamers access to state financial aid at public and private colleges. Eligible students will be able to apply beginning in the fall 2018 semester. This makes New Jersey the 10th state in the nation to offer this type of assistance to people who are protected by DACA and one of the few to also allow students going to private colleges to apply for state aid.

DACA is an immigration policy that protects some students brought into the United States illegally as children from deportation and makes them eligible to obtain work permits.

In the Big Apple, the passage of the law in New Jersey brought joy and hope to Dreamer youths, who are expecting New York to follow in the footsteps of the Garden State and not lag behind.

Jennifer Macías, an undocumented student at Queensborough Community College, was happy about the approval of the legislation in New Jersey. “For years, we undocumented students have been advocating for a bill to give me and thousands of other students the chance to access state financial aid in New York,” she said.

“I am disappointed that Gov. Cuomo and the State Senate have not introduced a similar bill, which would change our lives. New York needs to follow the example of New Jersey and provide the same access to higher education to all students, regardless of their immigration status,” added Macías, who is also a member of Make the Road New York.

“15 years of struggle”

The approval of the law is taking place after an effort carried out for more than five years by New Jersey Dreamers with the support of such community organizations as Wind of the Spirit, Make the Road New Jersey, the ACLU of New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective and Latino Action Network.

Last month, the New Jersey Legislature – led by Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Sens. Sandra Cunningham and Nellie Pou and Assemblywomen Annette Quijano and Mila Jasey – made a historic vote to expand access to financial aid.

“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,” said Sen. Teresa Ruiz.

For her part, Democratic Assemblywoman Annette Quijano pointed out that the law is an opportunity to open up financial aid programs to more students and that it will make a college education possible for more New Jersey families.

“This day is the culmination of 15 years of struggle,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, chair of the Latino Action Network Foundation. “We can all rest easier today knowing that more students will, for the foreseeable future, have greater access to a college education. Their horizons are considerably brighter than they were yesterday. This is a victory for knowledge over ignorance.”

In the meantime, Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said that she is proud to support Gov. Murphy for promoting equal financial aid opportunities for all students, regardless of their immigration status.

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Qualifying students will be able to apply through any financial aid program managed by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) or the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.

One Comment

  1. HESSA nighmare mom says:

    How about working on correcting the HESAA/NJCLASS debacle and instituting an income based repayment plan, similar to the federally funded loans? HESAA is a mess, predatory lending, misleading advertising, TILA misguidances and other banking faux pas that no doubt ultimately have the intent of filling the pockets of big business, rather than helping students in need. PASS THE BILL !! New grads cannot afford to pay $2000/month on a loan repayment, while trying to pay for life sustaining necessities…..these students want to fulfill their loan promises, while being able to be self sufficient. Gauging them with unrealistic fees, interest rates and limited repayment options is NOT the way. Look to help all….not just one particular group. I have offered on numerous platforms to get involved with these efforts to revamp this program. Take me up on it.

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