Prop 200 would not deny education to K-12 students
Arizona Republic
Dec. 10, 2004

The advocates and the opponents of Proposition 200 disagreed about everything . . . except that Proposition 200 does not apply to K-12 education. Regardless of the status of children's families, as long as the children are in Arizona, we will educate them. The children should not be on the streets; they should be in school. Parents can send their children to school without worrying that this will lead to immigration inquiries.

In May 1975, the Texas Legislature voted to withhold funding for the education of children who were not "legally admitted" into the United States. The constitutionality of this law came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981 in Plyler vs. Doe.

By a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held this law to be contrary to the Constitution and, therefore, void.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides that "no state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." A person whose presence in this country is unlawful is still a "person" under this provision.

The court stated that persuasive arguments support the view that a state may withhold benefits from those whose very presence within the United States is a product of their own unlawful conduct. But the same arguments do not apply to the minor children of such persons.

The denial of education to a group of children "poses an affront to one of the goals of the Equal Protection Clause: the abolition of governmental barriers presenting unreasonable obstacles to advancement on the basis of individual merit." The court relied on an earlier decision that had held that "education prepares individuals to be self-reliant and self-sufficient participants in society."

More recently, in 1995, in the case of League of United Latin American Citizens vs. Wilson, a federal court held that law, as set forth in Plyler vs. Doe, negated a provision in a state initiative that would have denied public education to the children of the people not legally in this country. The same reasoning would apply to Proposition 200.

This law is so well established that, as mentioned earlier, the supporters, as well as the opponents, of Proposition 200 agree that it does not apply to K-12 education. No parent, regardless of that parent's legal status, should ever hesitate to send a child to school.

Tom Horne is state superintendent of public instruction.