Schools cannot bar entrants
Arizona Daily Star
Nov. 11, 2007

My opinion Debbie Kornmiller

Reader Advocate

Tucson, Arizona | Published:


In the news and on readers' minds last week was the story of a Catalina High School ninth-grader and his family who were deported after school officials found marijuana in his backpack and called the police. Police then called the Border Patrol after learning that the family was in the United States illegally.

Many of the readers who commented anonymously on this topic online at asked: Why didn't the school check the student's immigration status when he enrolled?

TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander e-mailed me a note on a different matter and included:

"As a school district we comply with the 1982 Supreme Court ruling Plyler v. Doe, which states that public schools are prohibited from denying immigrant students access to a public education. Therefore, we do not require students to provide documentation proving they are legal residents of this country. When a parent registers his or her child for school we ask for proof that the child lives within the school district attendance zone.''

I Googled Plyler v. Doe and read the ruling on and a story earlier this year by The Dallas Morning News on the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.

That story, by Katherine Leal Unmuth, explained that in 1977 Jose Lopez, an illegal entrant, wanted his children, who were also in the United State illegally, to go to public school for free in Tyler, Texas, where they lived. That year, Texas courts had upheld a law prohibiting state money from being used to educate illegal entrants. Some schools were charging tuition $1,000 in Tyler others turned away children, including Lopez's. A lawsuit ensued and named Tyler Superintendent Jim Plyler.

"By a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, the landmark Plyler v. Doe decision guaranteed illegal immigrants a free public education and established their civil rights and equal protection of the law under the 14th Amendment,'' reporter Unmuth wrote.

Unmuth's story continued:

"Many of the state's arguments against enrolling illegal immigrants were economic that the children caused crowding in schools, that they were costly to educate through bilingual education and that they hurt the learning of American children.

"U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, himself the son of Irish immigrants, rejected those arguments when he wrote the majority opinion on June 15, 1982: 'It is difficult to understand precisely what the State hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare and crime.' "