Court: Tuition aid denial was wrong

N.J. appeals panel said a student whose mother was here illegally was improperly turned down.

Posted: August 10, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. - A U.S.-born high school student was wrongfully denied state tuition assistance based on the fact that her mother is an illegal immigrant, a New Jersey appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The appellate division of Superior Court determined that residency requirements pertain only to the student, finding that the applicant, identified by her initials, A.Z., was a U.S. citizen who had spent most of her life in New Jersey.

The ruling could affect thousands of American-born New Jersey students who were denied college tuition aid based on their parents' immigration status, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and a Rutgers University legal clinic that filed the appeal on A.Z.'s behalf.

"A hardworking U.S.-born citizen at the top of her class should be the future of the American dream, not have her dreams stunted by discrimination," said Alexander Shalom, policy counsel for the ACLU's New Jersey chapter.

As a high school senior, A.Z. applied for a tuition aid grant from the state's Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. Her application was rejected with the explanation that "her parents are not legal New Jersey residents."

The three-judge panel determined Wednesday that the authority was wrong in its argument that because the student lived with her mother, by extension she could not be considered legally "domiciled" in New Jersey because her mother, as an illegal immigrant, was not.

A message left for authority officials requesting comment was not immediately returned.

The appeals court took issue with the agency's definition of "domiciled" and voided a 2005 regulation - which said a dependent student's legal residence was automatically that of his or her parents' - that it said was beyond the agency's authority.

The ACLU declined to provide A.Z.'s name or hometown, or her mother's nationality, saying it wished to protect the family's identity.

Shalom said he was not sure how the ruling would affect A.Z., saying she had taken a full-time job and enrolled in community college since filing the appeal because, without tuition assistance, she was unable to afford any of the four-year colleges that accepted her.

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