BY Giancarlo Tello
As an undocumented New Jersey student of 17 years, forced to drop out of Rutgers University because I could not afford the discriminatory out-of-state rate of $27,500 a year, I find Martin Perez’ misguided response to the NJ DREAM Act debate disappointing and infuriating.The State Aid portion of the Dream Act is not “an insincere effort;” it’s a crucial component that advocates and the community want and need. This is the same bill that fellow dreamers and advocates testified for this summer in the Senate Higher Education Committee. This is the same bill that was considered in the Senate when Governor Christie proclaimed his support for tuition equality in NJ at the Latino Leadership Alliance Gala and in the Gubernatorial Debates. Governor Christie is breaking his promise by threatening to veto this bill, plain and simple. As the Campaign Chair of the NJ Tuition Equity for Dreamers, I have dedicated my time to ensuring passage of the NJ Dream Act, which would allow students like me, who call NJ home, In-State Tuition Rates and access to State Aid.
Christie’s remarks claiming that his support for tuition equality did not mean support for this same bill are misleading and disappointing. The community is angered by the Governor’s seeming support for this bill during his campaign, and threats to veto the bill once elected. As a student of NJ’s public education system since first grade, with NJ taxpaying parents, I have always lobbied for the NJ DREAM Act with access to state aid to ensure that I and my fellow Jersey residents have equal access to education. This bill is the epitome of Equality and is what Latinos and all immigrants need. This is the bill we advocates have been pushing for via municipal resolutions, mayoral letters, faith-based support, and even with the support of university presidents. We have been fighting for true equality in our institutions of Higher Education for years and it’s unfortunate that the closer we come, the louder a few isolated voices seem to become in accepting defeat or a watered down half-step toward equality. We are almost there because we ignored their defeatist mentality. We are almost there because we believe our community deserves equal treatment and we will continue to be on the right side of history.
True equality means DREAMERs like me are no longer discriminated against by New Jersey law. Access to state aid is a vital component necessary for ensuring equality. To even apply for state aid, students must prove their taxpayer status. Why does the law exclude fellow taxpayers from state aid grants, solely based on their immigrant status? Governor Christie made a promise to our community: that it is time for tuition equality in NJ. During the campaign, he stated that “too many promises have been broken” to our community, and we are holding him accountable to the promise of tuition equality in NJ.
Contrary to the Governor’s complaints, this bill is not “unsignable;” it’s been passed into law in states such as Texas. The governor proudly “tells it like it is,” and we too are doing just that. The Latino and immigrant community at large will not be used as campaign fodder. The instate tuition with access to state aid bill is going to Christie’s desk this December. It is the bill our community, and more importantly those affected by this issue, want and need. All eyes are on you, governor. It is time to sign the NJ Dream Act and keep your promise, or prepare for the political consequences in 2016. Republicans who opposed California’s version of instate tuition with access to state aid law are facing those negative consequences now. Remember what happened to Romney?
Giancarlo Tello is a New Jersey Dreamer and Campaign Manager for the NJ Tuition Equity for Dreamers Coalition. He is currently on the board of the New Jersey Dream Act Coalition and New Jersey United Students, both youth advocacy groups.