The 25th Anniversary of Plyler v. Doe: Access to Education and Undocumented Children

May 7, 2007

On May 7, 2007 the Warren Institute convened a roundtable of researchers, advocates and litigators to discuss the potential challenges to the 1982 US Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe. Various strategies to strengthen the right to a K-12 education for immigrant children were discussed and debated. Although there have been few direct attacks on Plyler in recent years, participants focused on indirect attempts by states and localities to limit access to jobs and housing for immigrants, thereby limiting access to local schools. It was noted that even those undocumented students who excel and graduate from high school have limited opportunities to pursue their education in the United States. Panelists discussed research showing that in-state tuition policies such as those implemented by California and Texas increase enrollment, yet many undocumented students cannot attend college because they do not qualify for scholarships and federal loans. In addition to the problems of race and poverty, Plyler children were confronted with the barriers associated with undocumented status, such as not being able to work or drive. The following policy recommendations were put forward at the convening:

    • Passage of the federal DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform
    • Passage of In-State tuition legislation at the state level
    • Increasing access to scholarships and loans for undocumented students
    • Monitoring the affects of local ordinances limiting access to housing and
    • Increased access to services and classes for limited-English proficiency

The Warren Institute commissioned a broad range of papers (links below) for the Plyler roundtable. Highlights from the studies include: an historical overview and legal analysis of Plyler (Olivas, Motomura); new research which demonstrates that teachers do not want to police the immigration status of their students (Rabin); the percentage of undocumented children in the population now is comparable to the percentage present when Plyler was decided (Chapa); the importance of schools in increasing civic participation of undocumented students and parents (Rogers,


- Robert G. Gonzales, "Left Out But Not Shut Down: Political Activism and the Undocumented Student Movement"
- Stella Flores, "In-State Tuition and Access to Scholarships for Undocumented College Students"
- Hiroshi Motomura, "Forward to the Past: The Many Meanings of Plyler v. Doe on Its 25th Anniversary"
- Michael A. Olivas, "Holding the Line: the Implementation of Plyler v. Doe at 25"
- Maria Ontiveros, "The Thirteenth Amendment and the Rights of Children of Undocumented Workers: A New Look at Plyler v. Doe"
- Nina Rabin, Mary Carol Combs and Norma Gonzalez, "Understanding Plyler v. Doe: Voices from Border Schools"
- John Rogers, Marisa Saunders, Veronica Terriquez, and Veronica Velez, "Civic Lessons, Public Schools and the Civic Development of Undocumented Students and Parents"