By Olga Medina
Summer Legal Intern
Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, which declared that immigrant and citizen children alike should have equal access to public education. The effect of the Court’s decision was especially pronounced in Texas. The case followed passage of a state law that denied school districts funding for the education of undocumented students and authorized charging tuition based on a child’s immigration status. Justice Brennan articulated the Court’s reasoning: “By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation.” In effect, the Court reinforced the idea that principles of fairness, rather than one’s identity, should dictate educational access.
Thirty years after Plyler, immigrant students continue to confront obstacles that impede their full contribution to their communities and society. Texas remains a battleground. Although it was the first state in the nation to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, efforts to repeal the law persist. Even students who manage to obtain higher education often are unable to apply their skills and knowledge because of the roadblocks they face due to their immigration status. These circumstances call for consideration of comprehensive immigration reform and enacting measures such as the DREAM Act, legislation that would establish a path to legal status for immigrant youth who pursue higher education or complete military service. As of 2008, there were an estimated 258,000 potential DREAM Act beneficiaries in Texas.
While Plyler had a major impact on the ability of immigrant students to obtain an education, significant challenges continue to prevent them from becoming full members of society. Addressing these challenges will be critical to ensuring that these youth can contribute to our nation’s progress, as envisioned by Justice Brennan, and ensuring that Plyler’s promise is fulfilled.
For more information, visit DreamActivist.org.