A Trenton-area high school student graduates first in her class, but, because she is an illegal immigrant, colleges and universities will ask her to pay tuition often double the amount in-state students pay.
Uni?n Latina (UL) is behind the College’s efforts to implement a reversal in the current law, which requires non-citizens to pay out-of-state fees. It is promoting federal and state versions of the In-State Tuition Act.
The federal and state versions of the bill will allow colleges to charge immigrants the in-state rate. The federal version allows non-citizens to be eligible for financial aid and leave to visit families abroad.
Kathy Ragan, director of Student Financial Services, said after a student’s residency status is entered into the computer, tuition is automatically calculated at either the in-state or out-of-state fee.
According to Carlos Avila, UL member, and other proponents of the In-State Tuition Act, asking an undocumented student to pay the out-of-state rate is unfair.
Avila is behind the organization of a campaign that involves letter writing, presentations to New Jersey colleges, community outreach and civic activities.
“These bills must go into law for the sole purpose of the betterment of our society,” Avila said. “The students that would benefit from these laws are a credit to society.”
A 1996 federal law addressing illegal immigration included a provision that affects state residency requirements for in-state tuition rates, which are traditionally a matter of state law.
Now, states are prohibited from offering in-state tuition rates to unauthorized immigrant
students, also known as undocumented students, unless other U.S. citizens are eligible for the same rate.
An undocumented student who wishes to attend the College would pay the out-of-state rate of $447 per credit, even though the person may have lived in the state for more than 15 years. The in-state rate is nearly half, $285 per credit.
According to the office of Records and Registration, the residency status of non-United States citizens must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but that most non-immigrant aliens are not eligible for in-state tuition.
Avila said there are several testimonials of some students affected by the In-State Tuition Act, who signed only their first names so as to not be discovered as illegal aliens.
David, and illegal immigrant from Venezuela, attended New Jersey schools since the age seven, and was about to graduate as the salutatorian from his Hudson County high school.
David said Rutgers University awarded him a $14,000 scholarship, but he was not able to accept it because he is an illegal alien.
A green card can cost thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees and take years to process. As a result, David ended up having to attend a community college and then had to drop out because his mother could not afford to pay the tuition.
Avila reached out to local organizations and legislators who made him aware of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minor (or DREAM) Act and The Student Adjustment Act, S. 1545 and H.R. 1684, respectively. On the state level, the bills are referred to as the In-State Tuition Act, or S. 2552 and A. 2633.
UL entered the campaign after Avila presented information to the organization. UL Secretary Greg Blair said the group is united in its support of these acts. UL has forwarded more than 50 letters from students to legislators, asking them to approve the bills.
The organization is also working with the Asian American Association, the Black Student Union and Lambda Sigma Upsilon fraternity. Avila has also presented his initiatives to groups at Rutgers and Montclair State Universities.
Since non-citizens do not pay state taxes, some said the out-of-state rate should apply just as it should to other people who don’t pay state taxes.
“They don’t pay taxes to the state, which is why residents get a tuition break,” Caitlin Gaughan, sophomore communication studies major, said.
Others said it would be unfair to charge students the out-of-state tuition rate, because they live in New Jersey.
“A young child has no say in the matter, when it’s the parents that often bring them here,” Amber Quisenberry, sophomore criminology said. “Why penalize them for that?”
Others said non-citizens should not be expected to pay the lower rate, because they are often in financial need.
“The value of education transcends what your residency is and what country you’re from,” Zach Scarlett, junior history major, said. “Higher education shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of someone’s immigrant status.”
“They should be charged the in-state tuition,” Kelly Dallavalle, junior marketing major, said. “I think they need access to opportunities, to get an education.”
Vicki Lupinski, junior secondary education math major, said she didn’t think non-citizens could attend college, and doesn’t think they should be allowed to. “Take the test (for citizenship) and then we’ll talk,” she said.
Avila welcomes help from any individuals or campus organizations. Those interested can contact him at email@example.com.