College access for aliens debated
At issue: What place, if any, they have for undocumented
By Abbott Koloff • Daily Record • June 15, 2008
Felipe Vargas always expected to go to college with his friends.
He said he gets good grades at Morristown High School, where he's a sophomore and the host of a student radio show. He wants to study art in college, perhaps to become a teacher.
But while he's lived in New Jersey much of his life, coming to America when he was 10, he doesn't have legal status. That means he may not be able to continue his education after high school because he doesn't qualify for any of the financial breaks he would need.
What happens to students such as Vargas has become part of a nationwide debate heating up all across the nation this year, with two competing proposals in the state legislature.
One would grant some undocumented immigrants in-state tuition to public colleges, following the lead of 10 states that have passed similar laws over the past seven years. The other, sponsored by Morris County Republican assemblymen Richard Merkt and Michael Patrick Carroll, would bar undocumented immigrants from attending any college in the state.
Merkt said he filed the bill in response to attempts to grant in-state tuition to students here illegally, but added that he doesn't expect it to get a hearing in the Democratic-controlled assembly.
"In a state such as New Jersey where we don't have enough college seats for our residents, I cannot see why we should occupy some of those seats with students who are not here legally," Merkt said.
Vargas, 16, who wore a Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt during a recent interview, considers himself a typical American teenager. But he doesn't qualify for in-state tuition at a state college. He can't get the federal or state financial aid he would need for private schools. And while most schools would accept him, even if he can't pay, his local community college won't consider his application.
The County College of Morris doesn't accept undocumented immigrants -- which appears to make it, along with Warren County Community College, one of just two public colleges in the state with such a policy.
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