New Jersey college students dressed in graduation gowns attend a press conference at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral, Camden, on Dec. 17 to urge Gov. Chris Christie to support the Tuition Equality Act, which will allow undocumented immigrants to access in-state tuition rates and financial aid at New Jersey’s public colleges and universities. At right is Father Kenneth P. Hallahan.
Photo by James A. McBride
CAMDEN – On the afternoon of Dec. 17, community faith leaders, parents, and youth came together on the steps of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral here to urge New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to support the Tuition Equality Act, which will allow undocumented immigrants to access in-state tuition rates and financial aid at New Jersey’s public colleges and universities.
Two days later (but after the Catholic Star Herald went to press), the bill was sent to the State Assembly in Trenton.
Although they live in New Jersey, there are thousands of students who, because of their undocumented status, pay out-of-state tuition rates. It can be triple the amount of in-state tuition rates.
“Gov. Christie made commitments during the election, promises to our youth that they will have an equal opportunity to pursue higher education in the state they call home,” said Magali Rodriguez, one of the undocumented youth who wore graduation caps and carried diplomas.
“It would be shameful to take that dream away from so many of God’s children who have the desire to improve their future, and with it the future of communities and cities like Camden.”
“I need this ‘Dream Act’ to be passed,” stressed Noemi Medina, an 18-year-old single mother who came from Mexico to the United States 16 years ago. She lives in Pennsauken with her parents, siblings and 2-year old son, Dilan.
“I can’t afford to pay for school, my son’s daycare, plus everyday needs like food, hygiene products and transportation,” she said. “I have a job in the afternoon that pays me nine dollars an hour; I can’t have a full-time job because I can’t afford a babysitter nor daycare. I want to be able to give my son and myself a better future; this is why I need the Dream Act.”
In a statement released in November, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey said that “in-state tuition legislation is just one step – but an important one – in the right direction of fixing a broken system.”
“These young students are New Jerseyans,” they wrote. “They worship at our parishes, are graduating from our schools, and are members of our youth groups. These students should be given the same opportunity that their classmates and neighbors are being given.”
Catholic bishops throughout the nation continue to encourage elected officials at both the federal and state level to pass legislation that would reform our nation’s immigration system justly and compassionately.
Sister Veronica Roche, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph and pastoral associate at the parish, read a statement from Father Joel Arciga Camarillo, the parish parochial vicar, which recalled the birth of Moses, and how his mother sent him away to Egypt to improve his life.
Moses “did not ask to be sent out of his land…like many of these children here today,” he said. “These young people are not liable for coming illegally… God called these Dreamers just like he called Moses, so they can open the way to thousands of Dreamers in New Jersey to a better life.”
After the press conference, youth and leaders signed a blown-up replica of a college diploma.