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A Scholar's Look at MALDEF's Role in Plyler v. Doe

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For the 25th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe--which obligated public schools to enroll children regardless of their immigration status--I spent three days last month reporting in Tyler, Texas, where the case originated. The ruling was issued on June 15, 1982.

I relished the opportunity to step back in history and interview residents of Tyler about their memories of the case. I talked with four residents who are natives of Mexico and, as undocumented children, were some of the plaintiffs. I also spoke with James Plyler, the former superintendent of Tyler schools, whose name is on the case; John C. Hardy, the lawyer who, at age 32, argued the Tyler side of the case at the U.S. Supreme Court; and Michael McAndrew, an advocate of Hispanic immigrants at the time of the case. My story about the impact of the Plyler ruling and the immigration debate in present-day Tyler was published this week.

I was focused on Tyler, so I never interviewed Peter Roos, who in the late 1970s and early 1980s worked for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the complaint in a federal court in Texas that led to the case. Mr. Roos represented the plaintiffs in Plyler v. Doe.

It turns out that Michael A. Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston, has written a scholarly chapter about Plyler v. Doe, in a 2005 book called Immigration Stories, that provides a lot of details about MALDEF's perspective in the case. Mr. Olivas writes: "MALDEF had carefully selected Tyler as the perfect federal venue for arguing its case: progressive judge, sympathetic clients, a rural area where the media glare would not be as great." And in looking back at how MALDEF was able to win the case, Mr. Olivas observes: "...good fortune appeared to have intervened at all the key times..."

Also see my earlier post, "A Foundation Magazine Looks Back 25 Years to Plyler v. Doe."

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It might be interesting to note that Judge William Wayne Justice was also the judge who ruled against prisoner torture and mistreatment, which brought about prison reform in Texas and the elimination of 'turn-keys' and 'building tenders'.
In reference to transitional bilingual programs, the studies have always supported late-exit to early exit and addressed the fact that learning a language is a life-long endeavor.

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