Applying the standard of heightened scrutiny, the Supreme Court ruled that the denial of educational benefits to the children of illegal immigrants is inconsistent with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 1975, the Texas legislature, in a revision of its educational legislation, announced that it would not pay for the education of children who were illegally residing in the country, and it authorized local school districts to deny enrollment to such students. It was widely recognized that the measure was directed at undocumented immigrants from Mexico. According to Texas officials, such persons were not “within the jurisdiction” of the state, and therefore they could not claim the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment. Opponents of the controversial policy brought a class-action suit on behalf of the children.
The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, held that it was unconstitutional for school districts to deny educational benefits to children because of their legal status. Writing for the majority, liberal Justice
As a precedent, the Plyler decision failed to answer a number of questions. The Court did not apply the demanding standard of strict scrutiny to the case, because illegal immigrants were not a suspect class and education was not a fundamental constitutional right. Emphasizing the critical importance of education, nevertheless, the Court’s majority applied the standard of heightened scrutiny. The compromise left it unclear how future courts would deal with other restrictions on public benefits for illegal immigrants.
In 1986, the amnesty portion of the
Chavez, Leo R. Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in American Society. 2d ed. Fort Worth, Tex.: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998. Kellough, Patrick H., and Jean L. Kellough. Public Education and the Children of Illegal Aliens. Monticello, Ill.: Vance Bibliographies, 1985. Soltero, Carlos. Latinos and American Law: Landmark Supreme Court Cases. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.
English as a second language
Graham v. Richardson
Supreme Court, U.S.