Texas governor announces intent to bar undocumented immigrant children from attending public schools


Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared May 4 that he would challenge a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits states from discriminating against public school students on the basis of immigration status. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Abbott made the remark within days of the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized abortion as a constitutional right. The draft Supreme Court decision, authored by Samuel Alito, is an open invitation for right-wing extremists and Christian fundamentalist groups to bring challenges to a century of legal reforms, which the far-right majority on the Supreme Court is poised to strike down.

As a guest on the Joe Pags Show, Abbott took aim at the Supreme Court’s1982 Plyler v. Doe decision, which requires states to permit children of undocumented immigrants to attend public schools on the same basis as the children of citizens.   

Abbott bemoaned the “burden” of “education obligations, as well as other obligations, that are simply unsustainable and unaffordable.” He told conservative host Joe Pagliarulo, “I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary, and the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many decades ago.”  

The Plyler ruling resulted from a challenge to a 1975 Texas law that blocked education funds for children who had not been “legally admitted” to the United States. It also allowed public school districts to refuse admission to those children.

When the Tyler Independent School District in Smith County began charging tuition for students who could not provide proof that they were legally in the country, a lawsuit was filed that worked its way up to the Supreme Court. In 1982, the law was struck down in a 5-4 decision. 

Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority, “Education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society. We cannot ignore the significant social costs borne by our Nation when select groups are denied the means to absorb the values and skills upon which our social order rests.”

The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Warren Burger, did not disagree with that assertion. The minority objected that the legislative branch, not the courts, should decide on the issue, while conceding that “it would be folly—and wrong—to tolerate creation of a segment of society made up of illiterate persons, many having a limited or no command of our language.” 


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