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Adoption of NJ DREAM Act is Welcome News For New Brunswick Students

Passionate Testimony From Students and Advocates, Widespread Support of City Residents and Officials Helped NJ Become 16th State to Offer In-State Tuition to Immigrant Residents
DREAM Act Press Conference
New Brunswick resident Ana Bonilla speaks at a press conference earlier this month celebrating the success of the NJ DREAM Act. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Undocumented high school graduates will now be allowed to pay in-state tuition at all of New Jersey's public colleges, including Rutgers.

Just in time for spring semester, the change in policy comes as a welcome one for the Hub City, where a large portion of residents are undocumented immigrants, many of whom were brought to New Brunswick as children.

New Brunswick played an important supportive role in getting this piece of legislation the attention it has received.

The movement supporting the change has been active for roughly a decade, with large groups of support in New Brunswick and Morristown, as well as New Jersey's most populous cities.

Many supporters of the bill, which was signed Friday by the Governor, hail from New Brunswick including many members of New Jersey United Students, the NJ DREAM Act Coalition (NJDAC), and the Latino Leadership Alliance.

Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center in Morristown also played a key role.

Still some were displeased that a provision to allow undocumented immigrants eligibility for financial aid was eliminated in a deal between the Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Christie.

Former Rutgers-Newark student Giancarlo Tello, who immigrated to America at a very young age and without proper documentation, tells NJ.com that DREAMers will “remember those who thought we only deserve crumbs, such as Gov. Christie, and we’re not going to forget that.”

“And we’re going to come back next year,” said Tello

Back in October, Gov. Christie first announced his support for Tuition Equity at a Latino Leadership Alliance (LLA-NJ) sponsored event in New Brunswick, where Carlos Rojas, an activist with the NJDAC was arrested at the Hyatt Hotel.

But nothing stopped Rojas from being present the day the NJ Dream Act became law, alongside Tello and the many others in support of both the in-state tuition and financial aid bills.

The Latino Leadership Alliance has been one of the leading supporters of the legislation.  Earlier this year, the City Council adopted a resolution supporting the change, a move that showed how far they had come in the past four years.

New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill joined the mayors of several cities, including Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Passaic, Perth Amboy, East Orange, Plainfield, Camden and Morristown, in signing a letter in support of the law.

The letter describes situation that undocumented students undergo in saying "unfair punishment on children who find themselves in an immigration status limbo through no fault of their own."

"Denied access to education feeds a cycle of poverty that proves deeply detrimental", the letter also mentions.

Middlesex County College student Ana Bonilla testified at the Statehouse, explaining what it was like to grow up in New Jersey having dreams of different occupations, eventually realizing her immigration status would be an additional obstacle.

Bonilla said that the state government could help make those dreams possible for students “no matter race, background, gender preference, social economic or immigration status…”

Bonilla explained, “All deserve equality, respect and the right to pursue happiness.”