In 1975, Texas passed a law authorizing school districts to deny public school enrollment to children who could not prove that they were “legally admitted” to the U.S. In 1977, the Tyler Independent School District created a policy forcing foreign-born students to pay tuition if they could not prove they were “legally admitted.”

A group of students who were born in Mexico and could not provide proof of legal residency filed a class action lawsuit against the district. It reached the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that the policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it could not be justified by a substantial state interest. The Court stated that the policy was, “directed against children, and that it would lead to “the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.”

In the four decades since the Plyler ruling, numerous states and localities have passed official and unofficial policies that violate the decision, and the case continues to ensure equal access to public education for children regardless of their immigration status. It does not apply to adults however, and many undocumented young adults are barred from pursuing higher education in colleges and universities because of discriminatory policies.

The question is whether


can be illegal

and how entire families may well be

permanently locked

into a state of exclusion

"The discrimination contained in the Texas statute cannot be considered rational unless it furthers some substantial goal of the State. Although undocumented resident aliens cannot be treated as a "suspect class," and although education is not a "fundamental right," so as to require the State to justify the statutory classification by showing that it serves a compelling governmental interest, nevertheless the Texas statute imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status. These children can neither affect their parents' conduct nor their own undocumented status."