By: Akin Olla Photo Credits: Richard D Hutchinson
On Tuesday, January 8th, the youth of New Jersey and their close allies chose to ring in the New Year in their own special way. The steps of the Trenton state house were draped in the various colors of New Jersey Universities and High Schools, each t-shirt representing the hopes and dreams of the hundreds of thousands of students who would one day walk their hallways, each looking forward to a future of decency and comfort. But despite the aspirations of many New Jersey students, the state that they call home does not treat them in such a welcoming manner.
Members of the New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition along with New Jersey United Students and Anakbayan (a Filipino youth community organization aimed at educating and mobilizing in efforts to address issues that affect the global Filipino community) have launched a new campaign to set right what has long been wrong in our state. Students without proper documentation, who were often brought to this country unwillingly as children by parents who simply sought a better life for their loved ones, are forced to pay out of state tuition in New Jersey’s public universities. Despite having attended New Jersey high schools and being children of New Jersey tax payers (the non-tax paying immigrant being an outdated myth, with some estimates believing individuals actually pay more than their documented neighbors), these students are forced to pay significantly higher tuition rates than their neighbors.
The current coalition of youth groups were joined by other students, unions, churches, and community groups all dedicated toward pushing back against the ever increasing costs of higher education in New Jersey (we currently rank #3 in states with the most expensive public four year universities). The kickoff rally itself began around 11:00 pm with an introduction by Marisol Conde-Hernandez, a Rutgers New Brunswick Alumni and a founder of NJDAC. The event was filled with personal stories of the anguish that comes with the inability to attend the Universities of your dreams. Supporters including local clergy and union members impassioned the rally with calls of solidarity with all students and youth of New Jersey. After hours of braving the cold, New Jersey United Students wrapped things up with reminders of the bills, A1659/S2355 and A3509 and a reminder that this was just the beginning of something great.
And who knew how true those words would be; within the next 24 hours, a new bill, S247, was written by Democratic Senator Teresa Ruiz, which lends support to preexisting bills.