This Supreme Court Case Protects Undocumented Students’ Right to Education

Recent months have seen unprecedented threats from crucial Supreme Court cases that garnered important rights for marginalized communities. The Court recently overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 case that secured the right to abortion access. And in early May, Texas governor Greg Abbott stated his desire for the repeal of Plyler v Doe, another landmark case rooted in the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy, which ruled that denying undocumented children state funding, and thus the right to public education, amounts to discrimination. If Abbott gets his way, the state of Texas would no longer be legally obligated to teach undocumented children in public K-12 schools.

In an interview with conservative radio host Joe Pagliarulo, the governor explained his interest in trying to get the decades-old precedent overturned, saying: “I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different.”

Abbott’s comments infuriated undocumented communities and immigration rights advocates across the country. Staff at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) Texas, suggested that Abbott’s comments will make the task of ensuring that undocumented students receive a proper education — already a tall order — that much more difficult.

“Abbott has no regard for children, despite their immigration status in the United States,” RAICES case management program managers Lorenza Marrufo and Saeni Rodriguez wrote in a joint statement to Teen Vogue. “First is the Uvalde, Texas, shooting and his gaslighting techniques to avoid pass[ing] proper legislation to protect schools. And now he wants to remove the most important thing for students’ growth — their education.”

Marrufo and Rodriguez added that though these threats are concerning, they are certain that if Abbott were to take concrete legal action, he would be fought every step of the way. “Abbott might try to use any resource within reach but will not be successful,” they wrote. “There will be a fight against his attempts by organizations similar to RAICES.”

Other immigrant rights activists agree that Abbott’s threats are mostly fear-mongering. Juan Jose Martinez-Guevara, the Texas advocacy coordinator for United We Dream, told Teen Vogue that Abbott’s comments show his ignorance of the history of education rights in the state. “In his statements, Governor Abbott incorrectly stated that Plyler v Doe, the case that long ago established K-12 education access for all children, including undocumented children, was brought on by Texas,” said Martinez-Guevara. “In reality, Plyler v Doe was a case brought against Texas. This goes to show Governor Abbott doesn’t really know what he’s talking about besides hoping that these attacks against children will appeal to his right-wing base.”

Despite the low risk of immediate, concrete legal action, Martinez-Guevara warns that the public should still pay attention to Abbott’s words. “Greg Abbott’s baseless threats against public education access are part of a broader, calculated agenda against Texas youth and their rights, just like his attacks against trans youth and our freedom to speak about race and queerness in classrooms,” he said. Texas has been ground zero for recent policy moves targeting marginalized young people, but many other states have followed their lead.

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