New Jersey opens state college financial aid to unauthorized immigrants

Students attend the ceremony where Gov. Phil Murphy signed the financial aid law.

Students attend the ceremony where Gov. Phil Murphy signed the financial aid law. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Gov. Phil Murphy has signed legislation that will allow unauthorized immigrants to apply to New Jersey for  financial aid to attend college.

The legislation will help hundreds of immigrants who grew up in the state and attended high school in New Jersey for at least three years.

It’s a matter of fairness, said Murphy.

“We know New Jerseyans support the ability of our ‘Dreamers’ to not only remain in our state, but to become a strong and contributing part of our society and our economy,” he said. “By allowing them to not only go to college, but to qualify for financial assistance, we are living up to that ideal.”

Maria Mendez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 3, is now a senior at Union County Magnet High School. Accepted at six New Jersey colleges, Mendez said the new law means she can go to one of them.

“Because ‘Dreamers’ like me are barred from federal and state financial aid, even though I have always been at the top of my class, college has always felt out of reach,” she said. “Today that changes.”

Some have criticized the policy. Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Union, said it’s fundamentally wrong for citizens and taxpayers.

Others, including Assemblyman Gary Schaer, defend it as a good investment.

“The total cost to the state of New Jersey for these ‘Dreamers’ … is about $5 million. For each taxpayer, in this state that will cost 17 cents per year,” said Schaer, D-Passaic.

Allowing immigrants to access to financial aid, he said,  will help produce better-educated residents who contribute to the state’s economy.

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