By David Cruz
It started as a conversation with Senator Bob Menendez at Rutgers Law School about the endangered Perkins student loan program, which makes loans available to students with demonstrated financial need. There are 10,000 in New Jersey, 4,000 enrolled at Rutgers totaling $17-million in loans.
“Without federal assistance I would have never been able to afford to continue my education, and now we have begun to deprive a new class of students of that same opportunity,” said Menendez.
Rutgers-Newark Senior Whitney Perez spoke in support of the loan program, which makes a major difference in her academic life. “The highest amount you can get, I believe, is $5,500, so to dorm is about $6,000 a semester, so that is easily calculated right there. It will cover most of my dorming costs,” she noted, adding that the loan is the difference between being able to attend school or not.
The loan program is part of a higher education bill due for a Senate vote next week, but students here took the opportunity of a visit from a U.S. Senator to talk about the issues that are preoccupying them in light of the events in California this week: guns, terrorism and immigration.
“When we can, in fact, make sure that those who are on a terrorist watch list and can’t fly because we’re afraid that they might take a plane and turn it into an instrument of mass destruction can buy an assault weapon in the United States something is wrong,” said Menendez pointedly. “Something is wrong. That’s just common sense. I don’t get it.”
In an impromptu question and answer session after the press conference Menendez spoke with students, including senior Rahimah Faiq, who asked the senator “how do we kind of push law to catch up, and how does that expand out to the federal level seeing as, on the federal level, things take a little longer to transpire.”
“The answer to your questions,” said Menendez, “lies in the admonition of a great senator – Adlai Stevenson – used to say: When I feel the heat at home, I see the light in Washington.”
SGA President Nevin Matthew asked about the Syrian refugee crisis and the reaction to Syrian refugees coming to America. “What is going on as to government’s response because I know that government has – especially the GOP side – has been negatively viewing the Syrians and letting Syrian refugees in,” he asked.
“I think we have to stand up and speak to the truth,” replied Menendez. “There is a legitimate concern about anybody – I think we have to set it aside from Syrian refugees – who comes to the country. No country can be borderless, and every country has to control the process of who comes here. But for refugees they go through the toughest standards. It takes two years and if there’s any doubt about your application it gets decided against and you don’t come.”
Menendez said he’s at a loss to understand how – with almost one mass shooting a day in this country – Congress has not managed to take any legislative action to limit access to guns, including yesterday when two gun control amendments – including one that would have forbidden gun permits to anyone on the national terrorist no-fly list – were defeated in the Senate.