It sounds like a done deal — but nothing's final until Gov. Phil Murphy's pen hits paper.

A plan endorsed by Murphy and passed by the New Jersey's Democrat-led legislature iin early April would make state financial aid available to immigrants living in the country illegally — at a cost of several millions of dollars.

The governor campaigned in part on the measure to expand Tuition Aid Grants to the young immigrants — and state officials are assuming he'll sign it. But he hasn't yet, and has until the end of May to do so.

It's a topic that inspires strong feelings and strong arguments — both from people who feel immigrants here illegally (and in particular ones brought here as children) have been unfairly demonized, and from people who think too many services already go to such immigrants at taxpayers' expense.

And indeed, the cost for the TAG expansion is growing. When the legislature passed the TAG bill, mostly along party lines, they estimated a cost of about $4.5 million to serve about 600 immigrants.

As reported by New Jersey 101.5 this weekend, that estimate has grown to about 670 students — and is almost certainly actually larger.

The governor's office accepts feedback via the forms available at nj.gov/governor/contact. Among the relevant topics on the dropdown: Education and Taxation.

The governor's office can also be reached by mail and by phone:

Office of the Governor
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625
609-292-6000

“These children had to school themselves against unbelievable odds, and yet they were successful," Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic said earlier this month. “They were hardened by the experience. And one would assume that the success they have had to date would grant them that same success in the future as well. So that after a few years, they would be paying more in taxes than they ever received from tuition assistance grants."

“When this financial aid bill passes, undocumented students will know that their home, the state of New Jersey, will give them a chance,” Plainfield resident Maria Del Cielo Mendez, a senior at Union County Magnet High School, said when the Senate passed the measure in March. She had been accepted into six colleges at that point, but as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico here since age 3, she was eligible for in-state tuition rates but not tuition aid grants.

Not everyone has been so generous in their assessments — including several New Jersey 101.5 hosts:

"Yes, we are a nation of immigrants," Jeff Deminski wrote earlier this month. "Yes, we should be a shining example of tolerance with a country filled with many races and cultures. But illegal immigration has nothing to do with that. Illegal immigration isn't about culture or race. It's about the law."

He went on to argue accommodating people here illegally is wrong, and "if you dare bring up that they don't belong you are labeled a xenophobe and a racist."

"While this week many are celebrating the help and handouts about to be given to illegal immigrants here, some of us know this is actually a dark time." Deminski wrote. "If citizenship doesn't mean anything anymore, neither does our nation."

New Jersey began allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state resident tuition rates in 2014. Individual colleges can offer them scholarships.

 

— With prior reporting by Michael Symons