"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.