JERSEY CITY, NJ – The City Council on Feb. 27 unanimously approved a resolution introduced by councilman-at-large Rolando R. Lavarro together with his colleague, Ward C councilman Nidia R. Lopez, urging state legislation officials to pass A1659/S2479 and A3509/S2355.
With the passage of the resolution, “Jersey City becomes the first municipality in the state to approve such a resolution and sends a resounding message that the City of Jersey City supports tuition equity,” Lavarro said.
During the City Council’s session, members of New Jersey United Students, Anakbayan NJ, and the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition were present and rallied supporters and endured a six hour-long marathon meeting to testify and see the vote through. Some of them wore caps and gowns in a symbolic expression of what they see themselves to be.
According to Lavarro, the DREAMers impressed the whole Council. “Councilman Lopez and Fulop told me that they were truly touched by the stories of struggle and accomplishment shared by the DREAMers who took to the podium,“ he said.
The New Jersey Legislature is considering two bills that would advance tuition equity for DREAMers. A1659/S2355 would allow all students who attended a high school in New Jersey for at least three years, and graduated or received an equivalent degree, to qualify for in-state rates at New Jersey’s public institutions of higher education, regardless of immigration status.
A3509/S2479 would allow some DREAMers to be eligible for both in-state rates at New Jersey’s public institutions of higher education, in addition to state financial aid. Both bills would require qualifying DREAMers to file affidavits that they intend to legalize their immigration status.
Although the resolution is a symbolic gesture that supports bills proposed to the state legislature, Lavarro said he looks forward to “working at all levels of governments to continue momentum on this important issue as well as advance other issues important to our DREAMers.”
He said the resolution has “given their [DREAMers] campaign an added boost. “
Anakbayan-NJ, one of the organizations that were present during the council meeting welcomed the council’s unanimous support for the Tuition Equity for DREAMers.
“This is definitely a good compliment to the grassroots organizing and campaign the youth, students and community are doing all across New Jersey,” said Yves Nibungco.
“As a Filipino, we are encouraging more of our kababayans to come out and join us. Don't be afraid. Together, we have made history yesterday. We still have a long battle to fight but we know we will win,” Nibungco added.
DREAMers’ undocumented status makes them ineligible for state financial aid and requires them to pay prohibitive out-of-state tuition – as much as double in-state rates – if they seek to attend public colleges and universities, despite their long-term residency in the United States.
According to a 2010 report from New Jersey Policy Perspective, approximately 2000 DREAMers in New Jersey each year could qualify for in-state tuition and state financial aid if the proposals were enacted.
Data provided by the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition state that undocumented immigrants make up 8.6% of the state’s workforce and paid $446.1 million in state and local taxes in 2010 alone. The Coalition also states that if all undocumented immigrants in New Jersey were deported, the state would lose $24.2 billion in economic activity.
“Empowering our DREAMers to qualify for an affordable higher education makes simple economic sense for Jersey City and New Jersey as a whole,” Lavarro said. “These young people will get better jobs, pay more in taxes, and create more employment opportunities for everyone in the state.”
Twelve states, including New York, have already enacted tuition equity laws, with five other states considering similar laws. Last year, President Obama enacted a policy called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which provides eligible DREAMers with temporary relief from the threat of deportation and a two-year work permit.