Opinion: How About Landmark Immigration Case 'Plyler V. Doe' Becomes 'Plyler And Doe'?

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As school starts up this month, we should remember the landmark 1982 Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, which ensures an education for all children regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status.

Doe was the name given to the four undocumented families living and working in Tyler, Texas who wanted their children to be able to receive an education. Jim Plyler was the superintendent of the Tyler Independent School District in the 1970s when Texas cut funding for undocumented students, including the 60 in Tyler.

It is incumbent on us to educate their next generation. They are an intricate part of the next generation of our society. Perhaps we should view them as our children.

— Mary A. Stewart

Yet states still persist to work around, over, or through it, attempting to keep some children out of school. Recently in Alabama, a school refused to allow the entry of a high school student and HB56  mandated schools to check and report students’ legal status. Texas’ original version of the Sanctuary City Bill, and California’s Proposition 187 and the Gallegly amendment  are examples of states’ unsuccessful attempts to overturn Plyler.

The Obama Administration recently released a guidance to remind school districts around the U.S. to educate undocumented children.

This also should include the undocumented children who have recently arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, as we can’t afford as a nation to turn our back on children who need an education.

I agree with the Supreme Court, that in this country, we educate everybody. I believe it is pivotal to our future and threaded into the very fabric of who we are as a nation.

We need to consider the costs of not educating 1.5 million members of our society today. High school dropouts cost us $1.8 billion a year in lost tax revenue alone. Failing to educate an entire population would create a large underclass of uneducated citizens unable to contribute to society. And surely we would all miss out on the teachers, entrepreneurs, and bilingual workforce we need to be economically competitive.

Now consider the parents in the case who came here with and for their children. They put everything on the line to fight for their children’s education, knowing it is the way to break cycles of poverty, to achieve a better life.

In my 12 years as an educator, I have met many Does — mothers and fathers who love their kids-who come to this country to give them opportunities impossible in their countries. Even though they know they will work hard every day in the face of discrimination and countless obstacles, they do it for their children.

It is incumbent on us to educate their next generation. They are an intricate part of the next generation of our society. Perhaps we should view them as our children.

But a recent Gallup Poll states that 55 percent of Americans think that children of undocumented workers should be excluded from public education—81 percent of those who identify as Republican.

The poll question stated: “Do you favor or oppose providing free public education benefits to children of immigrants who are in the United States illegally?”

In a way, I understand the response to the Gallup Poll. It is far too easy to fall prey to ideological politics with this issue when we hear the words free and illegal in the same statement.

Back in Tyler, Texas, in the 1970s this conservative community was facing integration, which already had its share of opponents. Mr. Plyler bluntly shared his memories of that time: “Things were hot,” he said.

Immigrants from Mexico moved to the community to work at a flower nursery and in meat packing.

Integration coupled with an increasing number of students who the state would not fund, created a breeding ground for traditionalist backlash. Tyler ISD, like other schools, began charging undocumented students $1,000 per school year to attend their public schools in 1977.

Unable to do so with limited means, four families represented by civil rights attorneys sued the district. Only days after being kicked out, the kids went back to school. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court where they decided that in America, we educate everybody.

But for the anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, let’s consider the 89-year-old Mr. Plyler’s view today.

I recently visited him in his home in Tyler, and he feels like they all won with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It’s what we wanted. These are kids and they needed to be educated. We needed to get the money to pay for it,” he said.

He said the Does wanted the same thing.

“If you don’t have an education, you don’t have a chance,”  he said.

He also disagreed with the poll results.

“No. We’ve got to educate these youngsters,”  he said. “Think of what’s best for the kids.”

Perhaps a better name for this case is Plyler and Doe.

Perhaps, like these two seemingly opposed parties, once divisive rhetoric is removed, we are not all that different. We want the best for all our children.