Immigrant demonstrators occupied the State House office of a key House lawmaker Thursday, saying that he is standing in the way of a bill they want to see come out of committee for a vote.
The group Student Immigrant Movement is pushing legislation that would extend in-state tuition discounts to state college students who are in the country illegally as long as they graduate from a Massachusetts high school.
The group targeted Rep. Tom Sannicandro, the chairman of the Higher Education Committee and the main decision-maker on whether or not the bill moves forward. Protesters filled the Ashland Democrat's office, met with committee staff and urged Sannicandro to schedule a committee vote on the bill before the Legislature recesses for the year next week.
"We are exactly a week away from the end of the 2015 legislative sessions and we have seen no movement on the Education Equity Act," Organizer Carlos Rojas-Alvarez said at the demonstration, which featured around two dozen students, many in the country illegally, wearing graduation gowns and mortarboards.
Rojas-Alvarez said several of the Higher Education Committee's members have committed to voting for the bill if it comes up.
"In spite of this, Representative Sannicandro hasn't come out to schedule a vote, and we're wondering why he's waiting on the rights of undocumented students to go to college," Rojas-Alvarez.
Sannicandro was not in his office during the Thursday afternoon demonstration, but staff allowed the students to enter and say their piece and listened patiently.
Opponents of the bill are trying to stall it from going forward. They argue that because they're in the country illegally, the students shouldn't receive state-subsidized discounts.
One such elected opponent is Billerica Rep. Marc Lombardo, who told the same committee in July that state money shouldn't benefit "those who break the rules."
"I think it's fundamentally unfair and the idea of expanding in-state tuition rates to those who are illegally in the country I think is fundamentally wrong," Lombardo testified at the bill's hearing.
The same group occupied the office of Sen. Eileen Donoghue in October and later engaged in a war of words over the senator's willingness to meet with the students. The third time the demonstrators showed up confront Donoghue, Sannicandro's Senate counterpart, they presented her with a "Trump Award" and unkindly linked her neutrality on the bill to the anti-immigrant positions of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In an email release to the media ahead of the Thursday demonstration, the activist group, described the goal of the demonstration was "to call on [Sannicandro] and the Democratic Party to do the right thing and schedule a committee vote on the bill by the end of the 2015 legislative session on November 18."
The bill has been waiting in the Higher Education Committee for a vote to determine if it will head to the full House for 119 days.