LOS ANGELES – Yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offhandedly threatened to challenge Plyler v. Doe, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, secured by MALDEF attorneys, that ensures all children, including undocumented students, have access to a free public K-12 education.
MALDEF filed the federal lawsuit in 1977 on behalf of four families whose children were being kept from attending a public school in Tyler, Texas because of their immigration status.
In 1982, the High Court struck down Texas’ discriminatory law. Writing for the majority opinion, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. concluded that “education provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives to the benefit of us all” and that the state could not constitutionally deny such an education to undocumented children.
Please attribute the following statement in response to Abbott’s comments to Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):
“Greg Abbott has once more distinguished himself as one of our most irresponsible and desperate politicians. His woefully ill-informed comment on Plyler v. Doe reported yesterday epitomizes the dangers of dog-whistle populism in the style of Donald Trump.
“First, Abbott needs some remedial education on Plyler itself. This was a case brought against Texas, not by Texas, as Abbott asserted. The case was filed by MALDEF on behalf of students threatened by a Texas statute allowing schools to exclude undocumented students from public school.
“Second, Plyler addressed the rights of undocumented children, not children of undocumented parents, as Abbott also asserted. The rights of U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents have never been questioned – nor could they be, as all U.S. citizens enjoy the same rights. The vast majority of children of undocumented immigrants are United States citizens born here.
“Third, while the Supreme Court split on the constitutionality of the Texas statute challenged in Plyler, all of the justices, including then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist, agreed that the Texas law seeking to exclude undocumented children from school was bad public policy. The four dissenting justices said so in the dissenting opinion. All justices recognized the folly in excluding certain kids from school; ubiquitous truancy laws embody this well-supported notion. Abbott now seeks to inflict by intention the harms that nine justices agreed should be avoided 40 years ago.
“Finally, Plyler is very well-established law. It is now incorporated into federal statutory law through a provision expressly indicating that Congress would not interfere with Plyler rights as it sought to restrict other rights of immigrants in the 1990s. See 8 U.S.C. § 1643(a)(2). This is distinct from Roe v. Wade, which has unfortunately been subject to congressional undermining for many years, most notoriously by the Hyde amendment.
“Bottom line is that, while Greg Abbott is clearly not a clever man, even he might ultimately conclude, if he has not already, that he should back away from following through on his hare-brained, dog-whistle commentary yesterday.”
Read about Plyler v. Doe and a find timeline HERE