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Scholar Calls Plyler v. Doe Ruling 'Resilient'

The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that students are entitled to a free K-12 education regardless of their immigration status has been "resilient," in part because of strong backing from educators over the years, Michael A. Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston, says in an analysis of the ruling for the Migration Policy Institute.

Olivas has frequently written scholarly papers about the 1982 Plyler v. Doe ruling and probably knows more about how it has played out over the years than anyone in the country. He writes: "The original Plyler case has proven quite resilient, fending off litigation and federal and state legislative efforts to overturn it, and nurturing efforts to extend its reach to college students."

At the same time, Olivas characterizes the Plyler ruling as "tenuous" at the time it was made, "with a substantial dose of luck and persistence and a powerful backstory of innocent children." (I wrote about the ruling for Education Week on its 25th anniversary.)

But it has held up against a couple of challenges, including one embedded in proposed federal legislation in 1996.

Olivas writes that the 1996 federal challenge to the ruling did not succeed partly because after a decade of living with the ruling, educators had accepted the decision. And he implies that educators' backing of the ruling is still intact, despite the recent heated debates about illegal immigration.

Olivas says in his conclusion that "the record shows wide and deep accommodation to unauthorized children at individual school, district, and state levels—even as federal and state efforts to enact stricter employment legislation have increased."

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