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U.S. Citizen Denied Tuition Assistance Since Mother is an Illegal Alien

Most parents want their child to attend college and obtain their degree. The costs of doing so, however – especially given the current market conditions and state of our economy- are especially burdening the lower and middle class stratum of our society.

Families are being forced to dig deeper into their savings and take out larger loans to help pay for their children’s higher education. As a result, many students now rely more than ever upon scholarships or state grants to help them invest in their future.

American Citizen Denied Tuition Assistance

An American student in New Jersey recently applied for a Tuition Aid Grant from the state’s Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA). The student, identified in court filings as “A.Z.”, was reportedly denied the grant solely because of her mother’s immigration status. In response, the ACLU and a Rutgers University legal clinic filed suit alleging HESAA violated A.Z’s equal protection rights.

A.Z. was born in the U.S., has lived in New Jersey for more than a decade, and has been an upstanding student and member of her community. Under normal circumstances (in other words, but for her mother’s immigration status) HESAA probably would have approved her application for state aid.

HESAA, however, contends that A.Z. was not domiciled in New Jersey because her mother is an illegal immigrant. It argues that residing in New Jersey for the year prior to an academic period is required for state aid, and A.Z’s mother’s status is relevant because A.Z. is not yet a legal adult.

Are Illegal Aliens Protected by the Constitution?

The ACLU believes this interpretation of domicile goes directly against established New Jersey law and previous court decisions.

For example, immigrants, or “aliens,” are considered a protected class by the courts. The ACLU alleges that discriminatorily denying state aid to this class is in direct violation of state and federal Equal Protection clauses.

Who is Affected?

A.Z. is not the only student affected by HESAA’s decisions. Ronald K. Chen, a member of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, has said HESAA’s decision is not isolated or a bureaucratic mistake, but rather a discriminatory policy it has adopted.

According to NorthJersey.com, educational access for American-born children of immigrants has been fiercely debated over the past several years in numerous communities. This incendiary debate will continue to receive attention as educational funding and resources continue to dwindle, leaving the potential education of millions of children like A.Z. in doubt.