The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of Law–Newark have filed an appeal on behalf of a high school student who was denied state financial aid because of the immigration status of her mother. The student, A.Z., is an American citizen who filed for a Tuition Aid Grant (TAG) through the state’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA).
The state rejected her request for aid, explaining that the high school senior was ineligible because her “parents are not legal New Jersey residents.” Her mother is an undocumented immigrant.
Students from New Jersey who enroll at a college or university in the state are eligible for state financial aid. In order to qualify for the funds, the state requires students demonstrate financial need and be U.S. citizens. The legislation that created the tuition program does not make any stipulations about the immigration status of the parents of student applicants.
“Our client is a hardworking high school student at the top of her class, a native born U.S. citizen and lifelong New Jersey resident with a promising future ahead of her,” said Vice Dean and Clinical Professor Ronald K. Chen of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic. “The state cannot deny her access to higher education simply because of her parents’ immigration status. The state law that created this program does not mention immigration status of the parent, and even if it did, the federal and state constitutions forbid discrimination against U.S. citizens due to the parent’s status.”
The appeal, filed directly to the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court, also contends the state has violated the state and federal Constitutions’ guarantee of Equal Protection.
“New Jersey’s policy is unconstitutional and unconscionable: in the United States, citizens cannot be punished based on their parentage,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “With the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and the rejection of the Dred Scott decision, our country ensured that all people born here are equal before the law.”