Undocumented College Students and the DREAM Act

Michael A. Olivas

in Latino Studies

ISBN: 9780199913701
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Undocumented College Students and the DREAM Act

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  • History of the Americas
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Decided by the US Supreme Court in 1982, Plyler v. Doe (cited under Litigation) has extended beyond its grades kindergarten to twelve origins, revealing that despite its many years, the well-established rights of immigrant children have not been fully resolved and have required additional litigation and additional vigilance to secure the Supreme Court’s narrow holding. The record reveals substantial and long-standing accommodation to the 1982 development of Plyler and stretches back to 1975, when Texas enacted the offending original state law that gave public school districts the authority to charge tuition to undocumented schoolchildren. The underlying legislative history was unclear and hidden from public view. Without public hearings at the time, certain school superintendents along the Texas border had urged the legislation, which was enacted without controversy as a small piece of larger, routine education statutes. In 1982 Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) attorneys prevailed in the US Supreme Court in a five-to-four decision authored by Justice William J. Brennan Jr. The court struck down the Texas statute, finding the state’s theory to be “nothing more than the assertion that illegal entry, without more, prevents a person from becoming a resident for purposes of enrolling his children in the public schools” (Plyler v. Doe, footnote 22). The justices determined that Texas could not enact legislation “merely by defining a disfavored group as nonresident” (Plyler v. Doe, footnote 22) but did not reach the issue of preemption, because they were able to strike down the statute’s provisions on more narrow, equal protection clause grounds. Justice Brennan’s written decision dismissed the three arguments that Texas had advanced: that it was preserving “limited resources,” that it had narrowly tailored the legislation “to stem the tide of illegal immigration” (Plyler v. Doe, [d]), and that the undocumented presence of these children meant that they might not remain in the state and use their educations to productive use for the state. In all Justice Brennan wrote that the provision did “not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice” (Plyler v. Doe, III-A). Since 1982, Plyler has controlled educational policy in the kindergarten through twelfth grade schooling of unauthorized children. Although the case did not address issues of college access, many of these children have grown up and now attend college, which presents an entirely different set of policy issues and legal constraints. This article summarizes these developments and analyzes state and federal efforts to accommodate or restrict undocumented college students. The national debate about immigration and comprehensive immigration reform has become contentious, particularly on the subject of postsecondary Plyler issues. This article details studies and resources in several areas: General Overviews, Research Studies and Data, Nongovernmental Organization Studies, Litigation, Statutes, Challenges at the State and Federal Levels, Postsecondary Plyler, Deferred Action Policy, the Politics of Plyler, Other Plyler Articles, Anti-Immigrant Sentiment, Conservative Immigration Perspectives, and College Students.

Article.  6028 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; US Cultural History

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