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Don’t Overturn Plyler v. Doe

Well-funded anti-immigration groups have hatched a plan to encourage the Supreme Court to revisit and overturn both the Plyler ruling and other well-settled legal questions about the limits of a state’s power in the immigration realm.

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Thirty years ago the Supreme Court ruled on a profound question in American life: whether states could bar undocumented children from receiving public education. On June 15, 1982, in the case of Plyler v. Doe, the Court struck down a Texas statute that permitted local school districts to charge tuition to undocumented students. In doing so, it guaranteed that all children in the United States would receive a basic education.

That seminal ruling extended the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection to undocumented immigrants, and it prevented a generation of immigrant children from being pushed to the margins of society. It effectively blocked states from relegating these kids to the lowest socioeconomic rung merely because of their immigration status, and it ensured that a generation of children would grow up as Americans, not as castoffs. Finally, it protected the nation’s own economic and social self-interest by ensuring that all children have the ability to become educated, well integrated, and economically productive.

This week is Plyler’s 30th anniversary and there is much to praise about the opinion. In particular, we celebrate the decision’s affirmation that the constitutional values of fair and equal treatment supersede a state’s desire to marginalize undocumented immigrants. We celebrate its moral contribution to our national identity by elevating the humanity of these young people over their immigration status. And we celebrate its positive social impact in helping integrate these immigrant children and their families into our schools and communities.

Unfortunately, despite the Court’s ruling and the concrete moral foundation on which it rests, Plyler has been and remains under attack by immigration restrictionists. After three decades in which the courts have rightfully overturned any attack on undocumented children’s education, today well-funded anti-immigration groups have hatched a plan to encourage the Supreme Court to revisit and overturn both the Plyler ruling and other well-settled legal questions about the limits of a state’s power in the immigration realm.

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