How the Garden State is helping DACA students pay for college
In May of 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new legislation allowing DACA students access to financial aid if they attend public colleges or universities in the state. According to nj.com, this bill was originally rejected by former Gov. Chris Christie because he felt it was unfair for tax payers to be forced to pay for undocumented students’ college tuition.
After only one year since this was passed, the state funded over $1.5 million to over 500 students, who have already taken advantage of the new opportunities.
In order to help spread the news of how DACA students can benefit from this new legislation, many non-profit organizations are visiting schools and teaching students about the sign-up process. One of the organizations is called Make the Road New Jersey, which is based out of Elizabeth.
Nedia Morsey is an organizer for Make the Road New Jersey and works with Latinx communities around the state to help them with the immigration process and teach them their rights. With the passing of this new legislation, she now also teaches students how to apply for financial aid.
According to Morsey, DACA students go through a similar application process as the majority of students do when they fill out their yearly Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The only difference is that DACA student must follow a few extra procedures because they cannot provide the proper documents that an American citizen or New Jersey resident has.
“The legislation does not say ‘we are giving access [to financial aid] to people who are undocumented,’ it’s saying ‘we are changing the residency requirements,’” Morsey said.
The first requirement is that DACA students must attend three years and receive a diploma from a New Jersey high school, with the intention to enroll in a New Jersey state college or university.
Once DACA students finish high school and successfully enroll in a New Jersey college or university, they must fill out an Affidavit form every year to prove that they are in the process of becoming an American citizen. Lastly, male students must register for Selective Service.
Along with the many organizations helping DACA students apply and enroll in college, there are also resources available for them when they arrive on campus, including Montclair State University.
Debra Cubias is a graduate student at Montclair State and hosts a weekly support group for DACA students called Conversations Without Walls.
“[Conversations Without Walls] is a new initiative that is meant to inspire students to come and feel supported by their peers and other students that identify as undocumented,” Cubias said.
In the past two years, Cubias conducted research on the needs of DACA students that attend college. Conversations Without Walls is one of the ways she pinpoints the issues that matter to them. According to Cubias, anyone is welcomed to her weekly sessions and anything that is discussed will remain confidential.
While many students have already taken advantage of the new opportunities on and off campus, others were unaware of them until it was too late, including Domenica Padron, a biology major at Montclair State.
“You’re very lost and uncertain, that’s how I felt. It’s those experiences [of] not knowing how you’re going to do it, and then you just have to figure it out.”
– Domenica Padron – Biology Major
Padron is a DACA student who immigrated to the United States from Ecuador when she was 7 years old. When it was time for her to start applying for college, her guidance counselor was unsure whether or not she would be eligible for financial aid.
“My guidance counselor didn’t really know what the Dream Act was,” Padron said. “Up until I had the Dream Act, I didn’t really know if I could go to college.”
Because Padron was uninformed about the opportunities that were available to her, she decided that she needed to pay her own way through college, waitressing at Newark Airport.
Despite her financial struggles, Padron continues to find motivation and hopes to one day become an assistant physician.
“My family [motivates me]. They always strive for me to get to a better place,” Padron said. “I feel like I owe it to them to try and give myself a shot.”
Chasing the Dream
DACA student aims for a successful future
(Click the Image for an Interactive Graphic)
Rebecca Serviss is a senior journalism major at Montclair State University and will be graduating in the fall of 2019. She is currently the Opinion Editor of the campus newspaper, The Montclarion.