UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco endorsed legislation that would allow certain undocumented immigrants to attend public colleges or universities at the in-state tuition rate, telling lawmakers it would "go a long way to eliminating some of the negative consequences our unauthorized immigrant youth students face."

Nearly 20 years after one advocacy group started its push to make in-state public college tuition rates accessible to undocumented immigrants — and 15 years after the House rejected similar legislation — supporters are hopeful that Massachusetts will catch up to other states that have such policies on the books.

Legislation before the Higher Education Committee would extend in-state tuition rates — which are thousands of dollars per year lower than out-of-state rates — to undocumented immigrants who already reside in Massachusetts and attend its high schools, a change that backers say would help students secure a more stable financial footing and mitigate declining enrollment.

The latest push has the backing of one of the state higher education system's most prominent figures: UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, who emigrated from Argentina as a teenager and whose academic work has focused on migration and education.

Suarez-Orozco warned lawmakers that requiring undocumented Massachusetts residents, many of whom were brought to the United States at a young age, to pay out-of-state tuition rates "imposes a tremendous undertow to students who are already often disadvantaged in a number of ways."

At UMass Boston, tuition and mandatory fees for the 2021-2022 school year total $14,697 for in-state students and $35,159 for out-of-state students. Fitchburg State University will charge an annual tuition of $970 for in-state students and $7,050 for out-of-state students next year, roughly similar to out-of-state rates at the other state universities and community colleges.

The bills before the committee continue to draw criticism from undocumented immigration opponents who contended Tuesday that the change would incentivize and reward the practice. Republican Rep. Marc Lombardo has a bill before the panel that would prohibit an undocumented resident from accessing in-state tuition.