January 4, 2010
At the request of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, I traveled to the New Jersey State House to testify in support of a controversial bill that the Jewish community hoped could pass. The bill, S-1036, allows certain undocumented aliens to qualify for in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher education. Earlier in the day, the State Assembly committee met to discuss and vote on the bill. I attended the State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting, where the bill would have its final hearing.
The packed hearing room was filled with dozens of immigration rights activists, including three front rows filled with kids, teens and young adults, the population for whom this bill was intended.
It was a long and intense day for the NJ senators, with many bills awaiting votes. As the current term comes to a close, it is time to conclude long-standing issues before the newly elected state officials have their day.
By the time this issue was considered today — after the hearing had begun considerably behind schedule — fatigue had set in among many in the room. The committee saved this issue for last; it was dark outside and patience began to wear thin.
Nevertheless, the testimonies of the representatives of civic, educational and religious groups, along with a few private citizens who came to make their voices heard, included some moving speeches.
When it was my turn, I took a different angle than the other speakers; I spoke about this as a religious issue. This is what I said:
“Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I am Rabbi Amy Small and I serve as Rabbi Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit. I am a member of NJ Governor’s Faith Based Advisory Commission, and today I am representing the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations. Perhaps most importantly, I am the mother of three college students in New Jersey — two at Rutgers.
I am here to support this bill, so that these young people can have the educational opportunities available to my children.
This is a question of values. I’d like to address this bill from the perspective of Jewish religious values as I understand them.
The first value is Justice — In the Jewish tradition, our sages teach that a basic principle of life is that we are all created in the image of God. We see ultimate potential in all human beings; we do not demonize.
This promotes the value of Respect. I believe that a society that respects its people — provides equal opportunity for all of its people.
These young adults, who have been raised and educated largely in this country – in this state, deserve to be respected as each one of us would wish to be respected.
This is what it means to promote justice—in a just society, we judge all people with the benefit of the doubt, and create laws to protect the fair and equal treatment of all.
These young adults are filled with potential. They should not tainted by their status as undocumented immigrants (which is a result of their parents’ choices.) In fact, we honor the hard work they bring to their education — and their drive to achieve the American dream along with all of us.
This brings me to the value of Education — Our tradition values education as a central vehicle for fulfilling our human potential. Education helps every one of us to develop insights, wisdom, skills and, most importantly, character. Through education we each have the opportunity to reach our fullest potential as human beings. These young adults surely deserve the chance to develop themselves in this way.
Of course, education facilitates the greatest opportunity for these young adults to give back to our community, to our state and to our country.
These young people are not criminals – in fact, quite the opposite – their desire for higher education demonstrates a pursuit of a good and responsible life among us all.
This brings me to the values of Kindness and Compassion— a kind and compassionate society brings out these very qualities in its people. The message of our religious tradition, infused in all of our faiths — is that we are bidden to create a society wherein it is the norm that all people are treated with compassion. When kindness and compassion are infused in all of our interactions, we can help to create a more compassionate world.
We strive constantly to be a compassionate society, and from that posture, I urge the Legislature to pass this bill – these young people deserve a chance. I urge you to support this bill to provide equal access to higher education for all students in this state.”
At the end of the day, the committee voted. One senator admitted that he had come to the hearing with one view and would vote differently after hearing the testimony. The chorus of voices addressing everything from the practicality to the morality of this issue clearly moved several of the senators. The bill passed (actually, to be precise, it was released for the next formal vote.) The crowd was elated.
On my way out two women stopped me – one to thank me and shake my hand and one who simply came right up to me and embraced me and said, “Thank you.” Herself an immigrant, I learned that she heads a local immigrants’ rights organization, coincidentally, in my town. With tears in her eyes, she told me how much she appreciated the voice of faith that I brought to the deliberations. I left teary-eyed myself. It was a very gratifying experience to be part of the democratic process on this issue.
I am proud of the NJ State legislature for its fine work today. The bill, as documented on the NJ State Legislature website, is copied below.

(Sponsorship Updated As Of: 3/4/2008)
SENATE, No. 1036
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
213th LEGISLATURE
INTRODUCED JANUARY 28, 2008
Sponsored by:
Senator RONALD L. RICE
District 28 (Essex)
Senator SANDRA B. CUNNINGHAM
District 31 (Hudson)
Senator M. TERESA RUIZ
District 29 (Essex and Union)
SYNOPSIS
Allows certain undocumented aliens to qualify for in-state tuition rates at
public institutions of higher education.
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
As introduced.
S1036 RICE, CUNNINGHAM
2
AN ACT concerning tuition rates 1 for certain students at public
2 institutions of higher education and supplementing chapter 62 of
3 Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes.
4
5 BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State
6 of New Jersey:
7
8 1. a. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the
9 contrary, a student, other than a nonimmigrant alien within the
10 meaning of section 101 (a)(15) of the “Immigration and Nationality
11 Act,” (8 U.S.C. s.1101(a)(15)), shall be exempt from paying
12 nonresident tuition at a public institution of higher education if the
13 student:
14 (1) attended high school in this State for three or more years;
15 (2) graduated from a high school in this State or received the
16 equivalent of a high school diploma in this State;
17 (3) registers as an entering student or is currently enrolled in a
18 public institution of higher education not earlier than the fall
19 semester of the 2008-09 academic year; and
20 (4) in the case of a person without lawful immigration status,
21 files an affidavit with the institution of higher education stating that
22 the student has filed an application to legalize his immigration
23 status or will file an application as soon as he is eligible to do so.
24 b. Student information obtained in the implementation of this
25 section shall be confidential.
26
27 2. The Commission on Higher Education shall adopt in
28 accordance with the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968,
29 c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), rules and regulations as may be
30 necessary to implement the provisions of this act.
31
32 3. This act shall take effect immediately.
33
34
35 STATEMENT
36
37 This bill allows a student who is also an undocumented alien to
38 pay in-state tuition at the State’s public institutions of higher
39 education if he meets the following criteria: attended a high school
40 in this State for three years or more; graduated from a high school
41 in this State or attained the equivalent of a high school diploma in
42 the State; registers as an entering student or is currently enrolled in
43 a public institution of higher education not earlier than the fall
44 semester of the 2008-09 academic year; and files an affidavit with
45 the institution of higher education stating that the student has filed
46 an application to legalize his immigration status or will file an
47 application as soon as he is eligible to do so.

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