Immigrant students stage sit-in at Lowell senator’s office

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STATE HOUSE — Wearing mortarboards and carrying SAT prep books, members of a student immigrant group camped out in Sen. Eileen Donoghue’s office on Thursday in hopes of urging the Lowell Democrat to back legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges in Massachusetts.

Five undocumented immigrant students who said they’d been in Donoghue’s office for about over 20 minutes left around 1:30 p.m. after state troopers were called and entered the office.

The protesters returned shortly after 4 p.m., this time as a group of 18 members of the Student Immigrant Movement, who sat and studied in the office after telling Donoghue’s staff about their personal experiences trying to attend college without legal immigration status.

“I have been fighting for my education for a very long time,” said Renata Teodoro, a UMass Boston junior who came undocumented to the United States from Brazil two weeks before her sixth birthday.

She continued, “I’ve been paying out of pocket, and it’s been really difficult for me to graduate because the costs are just extreme, and a lot of private scholarships have taken away their scholarship money because I’m undocumented.”

[Watch: Students React to Police Being Called During Protest]

Donoghue is vice chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, which in July held a hearing on legislation regarding in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

The Student Immigrant Movement supports bills (S 654, H 1061) before the committee that would make undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition and financial aid if they graduated from a Massachusetts high school and attended at least three years of high school in the state. Other bills have been filed seeking to restrict in-state tuition to citizens and legal permanent residents.

Carlos Rojas Alvarez, campaign coordinator at Student Immigrant Movement, said the group has been fighting for in-state tuition since 2002 and testified at the most recent hearing.

“We came back in August and September and still don’t have an answer from the senator about whether she supports this legislation,” he said. “For a Democratic senator from Lowell, this is absolutely unacceptable.”

Donoghue was out of state attending a conference Thursday, according to her staff.

Emiley Lockhart, Donoghue’s general counsel and policy advisor, listened to the students’ stories and said she would share them with the senator.

“We remain open and we are planning on holding a meeting as well, so please rest assured that your voices — we’re listening, we are,” Lockhart said. “We’re really listening. We’re doing the best we can to make sure we can hear everybody.”

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service