Massachusetts may be on the verge of allowing undocumented immigrants eligibility for in-state tuition rates for college.

Immigrant students, many undocumented and who came here as children, wore mortarboards to a state house hearing Wednesday to push lawmakers to grant in-state tuition aid for all students who complete three years at a Massachusetts high school or GED program whether they're here legally or not.

They say allowing students to more easily afford college will keep educated graduates in the state as they pursue citizenship.

"You know, I work, I pay for my taxes. So I'm doing everything right and still, not being able to qualify for that, it's hard," Diana Restrepo, a Bunker Hill Community College student who came here as a child from Colombia, told WGBH News at a rally outside the State House Wednesday morning.

Restrepo is one of numerous immigrants going through the federal government's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows immigrants who came to the U.S. before turning 16 years old to avoid deportation while in school or by demonstrating no violent threat.

But Billerica Rep. Marc Lombardo takes a hard line against any state aid going to those here illegally.

"We spend nearly $2 billion annually for benefits for those who break the rules and in-state tuition is part of that equation," Lombardo said during his testimony to the Legislature's Higher Education panel.

"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 said.

Around 20 students rallied outside the State House Wednesday morning before the hearing to speak out about what they say is the need for all students, regardless of status, to access lower tuition. State colleges and universities typically charge a higher tuition rate to students from outside the state than to students who can prove Massachusetts residency.

Lombardo said it's unfair to offer discounted tuition to undocumented students when even out-of-state servicemen and women can't access the discounted tuition if they come to Massachusetts after serving.

"Members of the military who serve and come home and move to Massachusetts maybe three months, four months after their deployment, are not eligible for in-state tuition rates at our state universities," Lombardo said.

Worcester Mayor Joe Petty doesn't want the state "to punish kids because their parents brought them over the border."

"This bill's about families. It's about economic opportunity … this is about general fairness. to people Just because the federal government can't get their act together when it comes to immigration policy doesn't mean punish children who want to succeed here in the state of Massachusetts or the city of Worcester," Petty said.

Gov. Charlie Baker has so far chosen not to reverse orders allowing students on track for legal status access to in-state tuition put in place by former Gov. Deval Patrick. Lombardo is backing another bill, H 1053, which would reverse the orders Patrick established in 2012 following the Obama Administration's move to slow deportations for younger immigrants in the U.S. illegally.