In 1975, the State of Texas passed legislation denying state funding to schools that served children who were not citizens or legal residents of the United States. Further, the laws permitted school districts to deny enrollment to children not legally admitted into the country. The result was that undocumented children had to pay tuition to attend public schools within the state.
In 1982, several undocumented-immigrant families filed a class-action suit against a Texas school district, arguing that the legislation was unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court granted cert in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), to determine whether the Texas laws denying a free public education to undocumented-immigrant children violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Ultimately, a majority of the Court held that the state had violated the Constitution. Justice Brennan, writing for the majority, concluded that though immigration status was not a suspect class, and education was not a fundamental right, denying a free public education to blameless children on the basis of their immigration status could not withstand constitutional scrutiny.
That said, the case was not unanimous, and Chief Justice Burger notably dissented to assert that the Court had overstepped its bounds. Nevertheless, this case is significant for establishing a constitutional basis for guaranteeing children a free public education without regard to their immigration status.
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