TRENTON - Immigrant rights advocates are calling on New Jersey lawmakers to pass a bill granting in-state college tuition for all residents, regardless of immigration status, before Gov. Corzine leaves office in January.
Residents are eligible to pay much lower tuition to attend a public college in the Garden State. Out-of-state students often pay tuition several times higher to attend the same school.
The bill, scheduled to be heard on Monday in the Senate Budget Committee, would apply to New Jersey residents who have attended high school in the state for three years.
The Rev. R. Lenton Buffalo Jr., of Union Baptist Church in Elizabeth and a member of the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network, said the bill isn't just about immigration but also discrimination.
"It wasn't that long ago when money prohibited so many talented African Americans from going to college," he said. "The bottom line is, if a student has bought into the American dream, it shouldn't be a nightmare when it's time to go to college."
Of the six states that take in the most immigrants, New Jersey and Florida are the only two that do not have some form of the in-state tuition legislation.
After the proposal has languished in the Legislature for years, it is getting renewed support after recent recommendations of a statewide panel on immigrant issues, and it has the backing of Corzine, who has supported the idea since his days in the U.S. Senate.
The report by the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigrant Policy argues that students who obtain college degrees are more likely to join the formal labor force, pay taxes, and remain in the state.
In New Jersey, the legislation would affect an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year.