The Latino Action Network is a grassroots organization composed of individuals and organizations that are committed to engaging in collective action at the local, state and national levels in order to advance the equitable inclusion of the diverse Latino communities in all aspects of United States society.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

BREAKING: Gov. Murphy Signs Landmark Legislation to Expand Access to State Higher Education Aid for New Jersey Dreamers, Immigrant Youth Declare Victory

As seven state coalition sues to end the DACA program, New Jersey has taken a bold step to stand up for undocumented students and DACA recipients

New Jersey Dreamers launch to get the word out about new financial aid bill

Newark, NJ — Today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed landmark legislation into law that will grant access to state aid at public and private colleges and universities for New Jersey Dreamers. The law will permit qualified students to apply for aid starting in the Fall 2018 semester, making New Jersey the tenth state in the nation to offer state financial aid to DACA and undocumented students and one of only a few states to allow students who attend private schools to also apply for state financial aid.

The bill’s signing comes after a more than five year long effort organized by New Jersey Dreamers with the support of community organizations like Wind of the Spirit and Make the Road New Jersey, the ACLU of New Jersey, New Jersey Policy Perspective and the Latino Action Network. The bill’s signing completes the New Jersey Dream Act, which passed in 2013, and allowed Dreamers who have attended and graduated from high school in New Jersey the right to be considered for instate tuition rates. Governor Christie vetoed the part of the bill that would have given Dreamers access to state financial aid back in 2013.

Under the law, a student demonstrating financial need who has attended high school in New Jersey for at least three years, graduated or received an equivalent diploma from a state high school and enrolls and files an affidavit with a New Jersey college is eligible to apply for any student financial aid program administered by the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) or the Secretary of Higher Education.

Last month, the New Jersey State Legislature, led by Senator Teresa Ruiz and Assemblyman Gary Schaer, along with Senators Sandra Cunningham and Nellie Pou, and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, took a historic vote in support to expand access to financial aid to New Jersey’s undocumented students and DACA recipients. Immigrant youth, legislators, educators, allied organizations such as Make the Road New Jersey, Wind of the Spirit, New Jersey Policy Perspective, ACLU New Jersey, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, American Friends Service Committee, Faith in New Jersey, Latino Action Network joined to celebrate the vote.

In the wake of ongoing federal attacks on immigrant young people, including President Trump’s decision to revoke the DACA program, states have had varying responses. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld a decision to bar DACA recipients from instate tuition. A seven state coalition, led by Texas, is suing the federal government to end any remains of the DACA program. Today, New Jersey has made a bold move to support DACA recipients and undocumented students.

“Today New Jersey has taken a bold step to stand up for undocumented students like me at a moment when the federal government would rather deport us then see us graduate from college. We thank Senator Teresa Ruiz, Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senator Nellie Pou, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey for their leadership, and Governor Phil Murphy for his long-standing commitment to defend Dreamers,” said Erika Martinez, youth leader at Make the Road New Jersey and high school senior.

“New Jersey has invested in all of our students throughout their K-12 academic careers,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz. “To limit the ability of our DREAMers to attend college after their high school graduation does a disservice to them and the entire state.  “Today, we are fulfilling a promise made to our DREAMers, who only know New Jersey as their home, that they are entitled to the same financial opportunities as their peers to fulfill their higher education aspirations.  Whenever our state embraces the talents, intellect, creativity and determination of its youth, its future, like theirs’ becomes brighter and richer.”

“This commonsense policy will put undocumented students – and New Jersey – on the path toward greater economic prosperity while helping build stronger communities,” said Erika Nava, a Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective. “Equal access to higher education for all students, regardless of status, enables undocumented students who graduated from our high schools to have a real shot at earning a college degree. This will help us develop a more highly-educated workforce, strengthening our economy and building a brighter future for all New Jerseyans.”

“This legislation recognizes the difficult financial burden undertaken by  many New Jersey families to achieve a college education. More importantly, this legislation acknowledges the aspiration embraced by DREAMers to provide a better life for themselves, their families, and our own state.  The enactment of this bill, which will cost each taxpayer 17 cents per year, is an investment not only in the economic future of New Jersey, but an investment in all of its citizens.” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

“DREAMers are an integral part of our state, and for many of these young people it is the only home they’ve known. Improving access to college by allowing eligibility for financial aid programs, in addition to in-state tuition rates, is about doing the right thing for students who have worked hard to be successful and continue contributing to our state," said Senator Sandra Cunningham. “I am proud to sponsor this legislation and to be part of the effort to provide resources that are very necessary for our New Jersey student population.”

"Opening our financial aid programs to more students will make affording a college education possible for more New Jersey families,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. "Any student who has attended a New Jersey high school, received their diploma, and aims to clear up their immigration status should be allowed to apply for financial aid to help with college costs just as any other student in their graduating class. This is a historic day for New Jersey and I am proud to sponsor this legislation.”

“Advocates and student activists have been fighting for years to secure a meaningful opportunity for immigrant students to pay for college. When all of our young people have access to higher education, our communities grow stronger,” said Dianna Houenou, Policy Counsel at ACLU of New Jersey. 

“This new law sends a clear and important message that all of New Jersey's students should have access to financial aid. We applaud the Legislature and Governor Murphy for taking this step to turn the dream of higher education into a reality.”

“This day is the culmination of 15 years of struggle,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, Chair of the Latino Action Network Foundation. “We can all rest easier today knowing that more students will - for the foreseeable future - have greater access to a college education. Their horizons are considerably brighter than they were yesterday. This is a victory for knowledge over ignorance."
Joao Paulo Silva, organizer at the American Friends Service Committee added: "As a DACA recipient, this will not only change my life but the lives of thousands here in New Jersey. Today’s signing is an affirmation that I and other immigrants belong and are here to stay. I'm heading to Rutgers New Brunswick next semester to finish my bachelors in Biomedical Engineering.”

“Rutgers AAUP-AFT is proud to have supported this legislation since the original Dream Act was approved in 2013. We commend the sponsors, legislative leadership and Governor Murphy for their vision and perseverance. It is long overdue and all of the advocates that have fought hard over the years are to be applauded –students, alumni, faculty, and our labor and community allies. Our students benefit directly, but we all are impacted in positive and meaningful ways when opportunity is available to all,” added Patrick Nowlan, Executive Director of Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

"Immigrants’ rights advocates across New Jersey proudly stand with Governor Murphy signing into law equal opportunity for financial aid for all students regardless of immigration status. This will help many young immigrants and their families afford college and achieve their dreams,” said Johanna Calle, director of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “It is a great first step which puts New Jersey on the path to ensuring that our state policies reflect the needs of our communities. As the fight for immigrant communities continues, we will continue to work with legislators to address the other major challenges that young immigrants face including expanding access to driver’s licenses so they can drive to school and continue to support their families.”

“When policies at the federal level have purposely and systematically excluded immigrants in our communities, New Jersey stands up. Our state legislature is showing the country that immigrants are valued in our state. Access to statewide tuition assistance is a huge win that will lead to the development of new leaders, diverse representation, and increased GDP. This win is not only for immigrants, this win is for all New Jerseyans,” said Adriana Abizadeh, executive director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“We’re celebrating a meaningful victory today. We know that Dreamers have made significant contributions to New Jersey’s economy by working hard and earning an education,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ Vice President and New Jersey State Director. “While the Trump Administration continues to derail efforts at a meaningful solution for the 800,000 students who are our neighbors, co-workers , and friends, here in New Jersey Gov. Murphy understands that having an educated workforce benefits us all.”

We the Dreamers, a student group at Essex County College, added: “The state of New Jersey is finally awarding equal rights to undocumented students. This eligibility for state financial aid will allow students, who were at a disadvantage, to continue pursuing higher education regardless of any financial barriers. Many undocumented students have had to give up their dream of attending or finishing college. Now, New Jersey has opened its doors to the undocumented youth and has given them the opportunity to achieve their goals. This step forward will allow DREAMers and other undocumented students to pursue their careers.”

Absent the passage of the DREAM Act or other breakthrough in immigration policy, ensuring equal access to financial aid will allow students to finish college on time and decrease dropout rates. New Jersey follows the lead of nine other states, from bright blue California to deep red Texas, creating a national movement that will empower immigrant youth through education, as college access is vital to Dreamers’ ability contribute to their families, their communities and the future of this nation.  The legislation is a key step to making New Jersey a fair and welcoming state, in addition to expanding access to drivers’ licenses and ensuring the state does not aid in mass deportations.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Time for Unity on Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants

Time for Unity on Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants

Since the election of our new Governor momentum has been building in the activist community for Driver’s Licenses for undocumented immigrants. Several groups, including the Latino Action Network, have launched campaigns or increased our efforts to get this legislation passed. I was fortunate to meet with several Driver’s License activists at our Annual Latino Action Network Legislative Conference in January and found that we all share a common goal: get Driver’s Licenses legislation passed as soon as posible. 

It is important to note that while we all share the same goal, our tactics differ from organization to organization. In general it is a good thing to have different groups approaching an issue from various directions. That is, unless some of those approaches become counterproductive to the end goal. 

Personal Attacks Against Our Allies

Some activists have taken to launching personal attacks against our allies in the legislature who have demonstrated their commitment to achieving driver’s licenses for immigrants. They have demonstrated this commitment by virtue of their sponsorship of the legislation itself. However, they are now being targeted and harassed by some activists who have launched large scale attacks against them on social media.  This approach is misguided and counterproductive. 

It is misguided because it shows either a lack of understanding of the legislative process or a deliberate attempt to derail this important legislation. It is counterproductive because too much time is being wasted debating whether the people who are championing this law in the legislature are actually in support if it. This time could be better spent talking to legislators who need to be persuaded to support the bill. 

Attacks Against Legislative Sponsors is Misguided

Those that are attacking the legislative sponsors of the Driver’s Licenses bills claim that the sponsors are obstructing the same bill because (a) multiple bills were introduced by different legislators and (b) this law is not getting “fast-tracked” like other bills have been and (c) they do not support the bill because they do not include mention of this particular bill in all of their public statements. 

Multiple Bills: It is not unusual for multiple bills addressing the same issue to be introduced in the legislature. In fact, in 2013 several bills were introduced that dealt with In-State Tuition and Financial Aid for DREAMers. Some bills only dealt with In-State Tuition, other bills only dealt with Financial Aid, and yet other bills included both components. For most of the time leading up to the passage of the legislation, most activists were only focusing on the In-State Tuition component. It was only toward the end that we all coalesced around the idea of pushing for the bills that included both In-State Tuition AND Financial Aid. Our thinking back in 2013 was that even if Governor Christie vetoed the Financial Aid piece, which he did, we would still get the In-State Tuition portion, which we did.  The added bonus was that we already had legislators on the record for having supported and voted in favor of Financial Aid for DREAMers and we could go back to those same legislators in the future when we had a Governor who would sign it into law. In that case, having multiple bills to chose from was helpful to our cause. 

Fast-Tracking:  For the reasons mentioned above, fast-tracking the Financial Aid bill was posible. When the Financial Aid bill was reintroduced in the current legislature, we already knew who the majority of supporters of the bill were by looking at the voting history of the bill back in 2013. We knew who had voted for the bill and those same legislators were very likely to vote for it again this time around. We were then able to focus our attention on those legislators who came to office after 2013 and therefore did not participate in the original vote. 

We also were able to expand our advocacy beyond Democrats and reached out to Republican legislators as well. This resulted in passage of the Financial Aid legislation with bi-partisan support. 

Driver’s Licenses is in a different situation because there has never been a previous vote on this legislation. We, as activists, still have a lot of work to do to garner the support of a majority of lawmakers in both houses of the state legislature.  

Public Statements in Support of Bill:  The best testament a legislature could show of their support of a bill is to become a sponsor of that bill. The legislators that are currently being attacked are the actual PRIME SPONSORS of the bill to provide Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants.  Their name is on the top of the bill. They have taken ownership of this issue and will face the consequences (good and bad) of their decision to champion this bill in the legislature. When this legislation passes, and I firmly believe that it will, the Prime sponsors of this bill will reap the reward of praise from the immigrant community that will benefit from it and they will also reap the scorn of the anti-immigrant forces that will vilify them for doing anything that aids immigrant families. They have gone beyond issuing a simple statement in support of the bill, they have tied themselves to the bill and will be forever linked to its fate. 

Attacking Our Allies is Counterproductive 

In the current anti-immigrant climate being exacerbated by President Trump it is hard enough to win over support for this bill from legislators that do not represent large immigrant populations. Our job becomes even more difficult when the champions of this legislation are being attacked by community activists.  Our allies in the legislature are doing their part by (a) putting their names on this legislation as Prime Sponsors (b) being public advocates of this legislation (c) fighting for this legislation within their legislative caucus (c) opening line of communication for activists with key decision makers within state government so that important questions about implementation can be addressed. 

The work that these champions are doing from the inside does not absolve us, the community activists and advocates, from doing our jobs. We still have to do the hard work of reaching out to legislators throughout the state to get them to commit to supporting and voting in favor of this bill. We must reach out to Democrats and Republicans as we cannot afford to leave any stone unturned since this vote might be close and even one Republican vote, like we got with S-699, could help put this bill over the top.  

These unwarranted attacks on the legislative champions of this bill also works to diminish their reputations in the communities they serve and on the floor of the legislature. The attacks give the impression that these legislators do not enjoy the support of their constituents. Nothing can be further from the truth. We would not have accomplished the passage of In-State Tuition and Financial Aid for Undocumented Students without the leadership of the members of the Hispanic Legislative Caucus, especially our three Latina State Senators: Teressa Ruiz, Nellie Pou and Nilsa Cruz-Perez. 

I am confident that with their continued leadership and a lot of hard work on our part we will be victorious in passing legislation that will provide Driver’s Licenses to undocumented immigrants. 

Now is not the time to turn on each other. Now is the time to unite and fight side by side for what we all believe to be the right thing. 

We must put our egos aside and follow our moral compasses that tell us to do what is right for our community. That same moral compass tells us that we should do this work in the spirit of love for the people we serve and for the people we struggle side by side with. So, it is in this spirit that I implore all community activists and legislators to work together because only in unity will we truly be victorious. 


Christian Estevez, President
Latino Action Network