In 1982, the Court decided that “education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society” and “provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives.” 

As the 40th anniversary of the ruling of Plyler v. Doe is celebrated on June 15th, it may be helpful to have a reminder of just what SCOTUS’ verdict on this case meant for the United States. In 1982, the Court decided that “education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society” and “provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives.” This decision meant that all children had the Constitutional right to receive a K-12 education, regardless of their immigration status. Under Plyler v. Doe, as of 2021, at least 600,000 undocumented kids are enrolled in K-12 schools and are receiving access to public education. Additionally, it allows millions of kids in mixed-status families to have access to education regardless of their parent’s immigration status.

Education is a powerful tool against intergenerational poverty, and Plyler v. Doe makes that tool accessible to students who might not have been able to obtain it otherwise. The undocumented kids who originally saw this ruling pass in the 1980s have grown into successful adults, many of whom now have kids of their own. For many families, schools are hubs where their children can access resources that help them meet their basic needs. It’s a place where they can eat a nutritious and affordable breakfast and lunch, have access to books and academic support, and create a social support system by making friends. On top of helping them become more well-rounded overall, schools help kids who may not be fluent in English be better prepared for a world that is. For so many immigrant students in America – mixed-status and undocumented alike – Plyler v. Doe offers a safe-haven for kids and a way for America to improve.

Research shows that having kids who are immigrants in the classroom can help U.S.-born students perform better in their own studies. It doesn’t stop there – Texas has greatly benefitted from immigrant contributions. Beyond the classroom, the contributions of immigrants have been crucial to our economy, particularly to smaller, yet no less essential, industries such as restaurant and food services or building services. Immigrants “help power major sectors of the state’s workforce, driving innovation, creating American jobs, and boosting economic growth.”

Another notable initiative that positively impacts the lives of immigrant children and students is the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Alongside Plyler v. Doe, June 15th will mark the 10th anniversary of DACA being put into action. Since 2012, it has allowed some people who came to the United States as children to, if eligible, receive temporary protection from deportation and obtain a work permit. DACA has improved the lives of 200,000 essential workers nationwide, nearly 30,000 of whom are in the healthcare field, and 95.2% of the eligible population in Texas who are employed – all since its implementation. It enables the grantee to better support themselves and any family that they may help support or care for. The policy also empowers people to immerse themselves and promote civic engagement within their communities, and thus create lasting relationships that push community members to be better and work harder. It’s a first step towards ensuring that all Americans can live with their fundamental human rights secured, living safely and freely, with dignity, humanity, and respect.

It’s a first step towards ensuring that all Americans can live with their fundamental human rights secured, living safely and freely, with dignity, humanity, and respect.

Take action here.

As of 2021, Texas was home to more than 100,000 DACA recipients – and yet, this policy that is so crucial towards ensuring this first step continues to actively help Texan immigrants remains a temporary policy and is continuously attacked. Under the Trump Administration, attempts were made to dismantle DACA. Not only would removing such a helpful policy rip apart families and communities, but it would also further endanger the state of America’s economy. The Covid-19 pandemic left the United States with gaping holes in its labor force, and taking DACA out of effect removes opportunities for immigrants to potentially fill those holes. Without DACA, graduating high school students cannot legally work, and thus have no legal means to support themselves. Though the Biden Administration has promised to grant undocumented immigrants “a path to citizenship” through the policy, it’s important that Americans themselves know how important DACA is in combination with the ruling of Plyler v. Doe.

Unfortunately, spurred by the Trump Administration’s actions, the Texas government felt emboldened enough to dismantle this combination. Governor Greg Abbott claimed that “combined with lax federal immigration enforcement,” the implementation of Plyler v. Doe has “created extraordinary expenses to Texas.” However, two superintendents stated that, rather than an “undue strain” of “unauthorized immigrant students,” their school districts had more than likely lost enrollment over the past few years due to the pandemic.

With such threats to DACA on a federal level and Plyler v. Doe on a state level, what can the United States do to support the needs of children – undocumented and documented alike – and their families while ensuring a robust economic recovery for Texas?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that the federal government leads the creation and implementation of immigration policy. But, on the state level, there is still much that can be done to protect and advocate for the immigrants living within our borders. There are policies that, in combination with frameworks like DACA, can ensure that Texas immigrants – our neighbors and community members – are getting the support and tools they need. That can take the form of many things; for example, electing officials who advocate for the importance of rulings like Plyler v. Doe, ensuring that all children in Texas have access to physical and mental health services, quality education, safe and secure housing, and economic stability regardless of status.

In addition to the aforementioned example, there is a lot you can do to secure the future of DACA and the ruling of Plyler v. Doe. For help with problems you may be facing as an undocumented immigrant, Informed Immigrant is a great resource. If you’re new to the movement and want to learn more, Newcomer Tool Kit, the American Immigration Council’s research, and Support Kind’s information may be helpful. To continue to advocate for the rights of students and families, United We Dream offers opportunities to sign petitions that call on POTUS and Congress to deliver permanent protections for all. At the end of the day, this is about creating a thriving Texas for all of us.

Join the Conversation!

Join CHILDREN AT RISK and partners from the Children Thrive Action Network (CTAN) on Twitter on June 15th from 12-1 PM CT as CTAN hosts a #PlylerDACA Tweet Chat to celebrate the  40th anniversary of Plyler V. Doe and the 10th anniversary of DACA!

The chat will focus on elevating the importance of the Plyler Supreme Court ruling and the DACA program in promoting educational equity and helping to build a brighter future for immigrant students and the community broadly.

To engage further, you can access this document with anniversary events from our other immigration partners.

This post was written by Frances Himsl-Fenz, communications and community engagement intern with CHILDREN AT RISK.