Undocumented Students Press New Jersey Lawmakers To Pass College Tuition Bill

In New Jersey, undocumented students are joining forces to push state lawmakers to approve a bill designed to grant in-state tuition rates and financial aid to students who are in the country illegally. The bill, which will allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition and qualify for state financial aid programs, was approved by the state Senate and now needs to pass the Assembly.

Most community colleges in New Jersey allow undocumented students to pay in-county tuition rates based on their home addresses, but many still find it very difficult to make the tuition payment without financial aid, according to Patricia Alex of North Jersey.

It is estimated that as many as a third of students at North Jersey high schools in towns with large number of immigrants are in the US illegally. According to the courts, they are entitled to a public education in grades K-12, but no guarantees exist for higher education.

Many of the students came to the state as children and graduated from public high schools in the state. Because they are not here legally, they don't qualify for federal and state financial aid and often are charged the out-of-state rate at public colleges and universities, generally double the resident rate.

Most teachers and counselors are very supportive of undocumented students but may not be prepared to answer key questions that may relate to our immigration status," said Catalina Adorno, who is from Mexico and graduated from Union City High School and St. Peter's College in Jersey City.

For higher education, the application process can be difficult for students without the proper documentation. Sometimes online forms don't let applicants proceed without social security numbers and there any number of other roadblocks to higher education.

Gov. Chris Christie, who earlier has expressed support for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, recently said he cannot sign the bill as passed by the Senate, which includes financial aid. Christie is thought to be a contender for the GOP presidential nod in 2016.

Critics said that Christie is trying to balance promises to his constituency in New Jersey – which would also play well with Latinos nationally in a general election – with the more conservative positions of Republican primary voters.

On November 18th, undocumented immigrants from New Jersey began a walk across the state in support of comprehensive immigration reform, writes Carlos Avila of The Trentonian.

The walk began at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden and consists of a nine-day 150 mile journey that will take the group to visit, Haddon Heights, Mount Laurel, Freehold and Mays Landing.

The group plans to meet with Members of Congress or their staff, including Rep. Robert Andrews, Rep. Jon Runyan, Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Frank LoBiondo to urge them to stand up for citizenship and demand that House Leadership allow a vote on immigration reform with a path to citizenship before the year ends. House Speaker John Bohnere has said that he will not introduce immigration reform for a vote this year.

The pilgrimage is being organized by People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) with support from various churches and faith leaders across the state.

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