Lawmakers are set to consider a bill Monday that would allow people who are in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at New Jersey colleges and universities.


Assembly chamber (Governor's Office/Jody Somers)

The Assembly Budget Committee will decide if the bill, designed to take effect in the fall, will advance in the state legislature. It has not yet been introduced in the Senate, but the bill's sponsor expects to get some support from that side.

To be eligible for in-state tuition rates, people in the country illegally must have attended a New Jersey high school for at least three years and have a diploma from a state high school or the equivalent.

To qualify, students must also submit an affidavit to the university stating that they have filed or plan to file an application to legalize their immigration status as soon as they are eligible to do so.

Eligibility is contingent on a measure in the U.S. Senate that aims to reform immigration laws, including the creation of a 13-year path to citizenship for some 11 million people now in the country illegally.

Under current law, students in New Jersey illegally must pay out-of-state tuition because they cannot formally declare they reside in the state.

At Rutgers, the state's largest university, it would mean students pay about $13,000 less in tuition annually. In 2012, New Jersey had more than 430,000 students enrolled in state colleges and universities, according to the state Department of Higher Education.

It is unclear how many of those would be affected by the bill. The state has the fifth-highest population of people who are here illegally, according to the Pew Research Center.

To date, 12 states have enacted laws that allow people there illegally to pay in-state tuition, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Six other states have passed measures that bar those living there illegally from paying in-state tuition.

Students in California and Kansas have sued over the matter, arguing that offering in-state tuition to students there illegally while charging U.S. citizens out-of-state tuition rates violated federal immigration laws. The Supreme Court denied hearing both cases.

The bill's sponsor in New Jersey, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Englewood, said he proposed the bill to give young people a better chance at an affordable education.

Johnson said that he modeled the bill after national immigration reform efforts and that it's necessary to make affordable education available to everyone.

"It's all about ensuring that we treat everyone as fairly as we can and give them opportunities to achieve their goals," Johnson said.

Johnson said the aim of the bill is to ensure young people "become taxpayers and not tax takers."

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