Rutgers to host first-ever N.J. college fair for unauthorized immigrants

By Kelly Heyboer | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on February 12, 2015

Gov. Chris Christie shakes hands with Union City High School students after meeting with Hispanic community leaders and before holding a Dream Act ceremonial bill signing at Colin Powell Elementary School in Union City in 2014

 

NEWARK — In a sign of the changing climate for unauthorized immigrants, Rutgers-Newark will host a first-of-its-kind college admissions fair this weekend for students who came to the U.S. illegally.

The three-hour event, called "undocuRutgers," is designed for immigrants who entered the country without legal permission but want to take advantage of the New Jersey Dream Act and other programs designed to help "undocumented" youth go to college.

In 2013, Gov. Chris Christie signed controversial Dream Act legislation allowing the children of immigrants living in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at New Jersey's public colleges.

Giancarlo Tello, a Rutgers-Newark junior and student activist, said the "undocuRutgers" college fair is another watershed moment for the children of unauthorized immigrants as they come forward to pursue a higher education.

"It's a huge milestone. It's the first I've ever heard of in New Jersey," Tello, 25, said of the event.

Tello said he suggested the idea of holding a college information session to Rutgers-Newark officials last fall after hearing from numerous fellow immigrant students unsure how to apply for college.

"I still get a lot of undocumented students who want to go to college and who don't know who to talk to," Tello said. "How do you fill out an application if you don't have a Social Security number?"

Rutgers administrators said they are unsure if universities in other states offer college admissions events specifically designed for immigrant students who entered the country illegally.

"We have not done formal benchmarking to determine how common it is among colleges and universities nationally to offer an information day like this," said Peter Englot, Rutgers-Newark's senior vice chancellor for public affairs. "Our motivation derives from our awareness of the growing presence of undocumented students in our region, underlined by recent studies."

Last year, a study estimated there are more than 525,000 immigrants living in New Jersey illegally, Englot said.

The "undocuRutgers" college fair will include admissions representatives from Rutgers, the state's largest university, and several other local schools, including Essex, Bergen, Hudson and Union county colleges. Campus officials will also offer advice on paying tuition.

Under New Jersey law, students living in the country illegally can attend New Jersey's public colleges at in-state tuition rates if they sign an affidavit saying they have filed or plan to file an application to legalize their immigration status.

However, unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for state or federal financial aid. So, many students who entered the country illegally struggle to pay tuition at New Jersey state colleges, which are among the costliest public colleges in the nation. At Rutgers-Newark, annual tuition is $13,297 a year before books, room and board and other expenses are added to the total.

Tello said he came to the U.S. legally with his family on a temporary visa from Peru when he was 6, but the visa eventually expired and their application for citizenship stalled. He did not know of his unauthorized status until he was a teenager. The Belleville resident helped fight for the passage of the New Jersey Dream Act and drew statewide attention when he was awarded a new two-year Rutgers scholarship worth more than $22,000 for students who had lived in the country without legal permission.

Tello, like many unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children, has successfully applied for a waiver allowing him to remain in the U.S. temporarily under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals measure signed by President Obama in 2012.

Rutgers officials have promised potential applicants who registered for Saturday's event that neither their names nor their immigration status will be shared with any government officials or federal agencies if they attend the session.

Representatives of Rutgers-Newark's law school will be at Saturday's college fair to discuss legal issues with participants, including how unauthorized immigrant students can apply for federal deferred action waivers.

"Undocumented children and their parents are a really underrepresented community," said Randi Mandelbaum, a clinical professor of law and director of Rutgers' Child Advocacy Clinic. "Many of them have dreams. The more we can assist them . . . the better."

The "undocuRutgers" college fair will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Ackerson Hall on the Rutgers-Newark campus. Students are asked to register at admissions.rutgers.edu/undocu.

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