By Briana Vannozzi
Thelma Carrera’s federal student aid application sailed through the approval process, but when it came time for The College of New Jersey student to apply through New Jersey’s student loan authority? Denied. Although Thelma was born in New Jersey and has U.S. Citizenship her mother does not.
“I had to write a letter, with Maria’s help, stating that I am a citizen, I am a student and my mom’s citizenship status does not have anything to do with me getting grants,” Carrera said.
Maria is Maria Juega, the Executive Director at the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. She’s helped lead the charge to change the application process at New Jersey’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. For the first time in its history, the loan agency will no longer automatically deny the applications of students who can’t produce a social security number for their immigrant parents.
“She was not the first one that we’ve helped with this situation. We had actually encountered a similar situation a couple years before and we brought this to the attention of the ACLU,” Juega said.
In the past, students could appeal a denied application. They just had to prove they were a New Jersey resident, but Juega’s team discovered few students attempted to do so.
“We think that students are either not knowledgeable about the process, or they fear entering the process because of repercussions to the parents, possible repercussions to the parents,” she said.
The battle went all the way to the state Superior Court of Appeals. Eventually the scales tipped in favor of students like Carrera — now a junior with a double major.
“I am glad that other students won’t have to go through this process of repealing it and the anxieties of thinking, ‘oh, I can’t go to college,'” Carrera said.
New Jersey’s Higher Education Loan Authority says for the last academic year, roughly 430 students successfully appealed their denied application, despite their parents’ immigration status though it’s unclear how many students will have access through the new process.
But there are many who question this type of public policy.
“People here legally should get an education. Should taxpayers pay for that education? Should that be subsidized? In our view the question is simple. No — Taxpayers should not be subsidizing people who are here because somebody broke the law. Whether it’s the parent or whether it’s the child, people should not benefit from the law breaking of a relative in this context as in any other,” said Dan Stein, president of FAIR.
New Jersey’s loan agency has come under fire for aggressive repayment policies and immigration reform groups see this as opportunity for more defaults and higher interest rates.
“If the parents don’t have a social security number or any proper form of ID, then they’re not in the position to guarantee the loan because they don’t have an income, or a legal income, and they cannot lawfully work,” Stein said. “So if the parents are not able to guarantee the loan, why do we want to provide subsidized loans to the children even through the children may be here legally?”
“We know what the results would be eventually if we create a marginalized population that is unfairly deprived of equal rights. Eventually we’re going to all suffer from this,” said Juega.
“I will be graduating 2018 and I will be heading to law school. My plans are to be an immigration lawyer here in Trenton,” Carrera said.
Hoping to pay it forward.