NEWARK, NJ - Legislation co-sponsored by Paterson's Senator Nellie Pou (D-35) allowing students to apply for state financial aid assistance, joining nine other states nationally to make both tuition and financial aid available to DREAMers, was signed into law on Wednesday by Governor Phil Murphy.

The DREAM Act was a bill created by Congress to allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to obtain legal status to those young people who grew up and went to school here.

“Tuition equity and equal access to financial aid are moral standards that we as public officials must uphold for all New Jersey students, whether they were born here or not,” Murphy said during a ceremonial bill signing at Rutgers University—Newark.

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“These young people came to this country as children, were educated in our schools, and are just as American as anyone else," Murphy said. "I’m proud to sign this legislation to help these students achieve their educational goals and their pursuit of a successful future.”

The legislation, S-699 allows a student who meets the requirements established under the in-state tuition law signed in 2013 to qualify for and participate in any student financial aid program administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) or the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE).

This will provide DREAMers with additional means to achieve their dreams of going to college, getting a degree and creating a better life for themselves and their families,” Pou said when the bill was passed by the Senate Higher Education Committee in February. “These kids know no other home than America. We must protect them. This is a major step forward for our state and I am thrilled that we are advancing this legislation and that New Jersey is taking such aggressive measures to make the lives of DREAMers better. By making their lives better, it makes all of us better.  I look forward to seeing this bill become law.”

Former Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a tuition and financial aid equality bill in 2013 and removed the state financial aid sections though keeping the parts of the bill that established in-state tuition.

“Our jobs are not done this is just a first step,” said Ruiz, who hails from Newark and serves as the Senate Education Committee Chair, adding that the most important change citizens can collectively make is “moving our moral compass to protect our most useful asset... our children.”

Ruiz, who was instrumental in the crafting of this legislation, became teary-eyed while speaking about a student who is now an attorney after a 10-year process to gain the necessary funding to reach that goal.  

“New Jersey has invested in all of our students throughout their K-12 academic careers,” said Ruiz.  “To limit the ability of our DREAMers to attend college after their high school graduation does a disservice to them and the entire state. Today, we are fulfilling a promise made to our DREAMers, who only know New Jersey as their home, that they are entitled to the same financial opportunities as their peers to fulfill their higher education aspirations.  Whenever our state embraces the talents, intellect, creativity and determination of its youth, its future, like theirs’ becomes brighter and richer.”

Esder Chong, a junior at Rutgers, spoke about being born in South Korea but growing up in New Jersey from the age of six. Chong said she spent many hours seeking scholarships and financial aid from a pool that is too small and creates an uncertain future for far too many young people.  

“I’m a Rutgers Business, an honors college student and a student athlete, news editor, and president of RU Dreamers. Still, regardless of my work ethic or high GPA, my attendance every semester is uncertain because it’s determined by a limited pool of private scholarships and donors,” said Chong.

“I don’t know how many people could not start school, left part way or even with only one semester left until graduation because they were unable to find a scholarship in time for the new semester," Chong said. "How many future doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, and senators has New Jersey lost?”

The requirements to qualify for the S-699 financial aid include attending high school in New Jersey for three or more years, graduating from a New Jersey high school or receiving a high school equivalency, registering and enrolling in a public institution of higher education no earlier than the 2013-2014 academic year and filing an affidavit stating that the student has filed an application to legalize their immigration status.

“President Trump and many of his Republican enablers in Congress cast the worst aspersions on our DREAMers,” said Murphy. “But we in New Jersey know better. We know that economic progress cannot be achieved without social progress and that social progress cannot be achieved without economic progress.”