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New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Based on DREAM Act Allowing Certain Undocumented Immigrants to Pay In-State Tuition at Public Universities

Thomas_Stothard_-_Oberon_and_Titania_from_-A_Midsummer_Night's_Dream,-_Act_IV,_Scene_i_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgNew Jersey Governor Chris Christie held a ceremonial public signing of S2479, informally known as the New Jersey Dream Act on January 7, 2014. He had officially signed the bill into law in December. The law, also known as the Tuition Equality Act, allows qualifying undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at New Jersey’s public colleges and universities. It is based on provisions of the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which has been introduced in the U.S. Congress several times but has not passed both houses yet. At least sixteen states, including New Jersey, have passed legislation similar to the DREAM Act. The Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program also offers some of the benefits contained in the federal DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress in 2001. It would offer benefits to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, have no criminal history, and who have completed some higher education or served in the U.S. military. More than 2 million people college-age people in the U.S., known as “dreamers,” reportedly meet these criteria. The DREAM Act would apply nationwide and offer qualifying individuals relief from deportation, educational benefits, and work authorization.

State governments do not have the legal authority to confer immigration benefits, so the provisions of the DREAM Act pertaining to deportation and work authorization must remain in the hands of Congress and the White House. Federal immigration law allows states to enact laws making certain state or local public benefits available to undocumented immigrants. The New Jersey Dream Act therefore only applies to tuition rates for dreamers who reside in the state.

Governor Christie signed the bill on December 20, 2013, after a lengthy negotiation process that resulted in the removal of several provisions, including one that would make dreamers eligible for public financial aid. The final bill still resolves a contradiction in New Jersey education law, in which the state paid for public education for dreamers through high school, but then prevented them from affordably attending college. As the Star-Ledger Editorial Board observed, the state already “invest[s] $200,000 in a child’s education,” and a college-educated child can “earn more money, pay more taxes and contribute more to the state’s prosperity.” In-state tuition and fees at Rutgers University average $13,499 a year, according to the Star-Ledger, while out-of-state students might expect to pay $27,523.

The eligibility criteria for the New Jersey Dream Act are similar to those for the DACA program. Without further action by the U.S. Congress, dreamers generally still cannot qualify for legal immigration status. DACA gives them a reprieve from fear of deportation based solely on the circumstances of their arrival in the U.S., as well as authorization for employment. New Jersey and at least fifteen other states have also given dreamers a greater ability to continue their educations.

Immigration lawyer Samuel C. Berger practices in the New York and New Jersey areas, representing individuals who wish to immigrate to this region, family members seeking to bring a loved one here, and employers who want to hire talent from abroad. We advise families and businesses on how to help immigrants come here, and we help immigrants obtain visas and green cards. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our legal team, please contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

Immigration Reform Proposals Include Relief for New Jersey DREAMers, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 13, 2013
Lawmakers Introduce Immigration Reform Bill in Congress, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, April 19, 2013
New White House Immigration Policy Offers Opportunities and Risks for Young Undocumented Immigrants, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 21, 2012
Photo credit: By Thomas Stothard (1755 – 1834) (British) (Artist, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.