William Perry Pendley Ponders Plyler–Conventional Wisdom Wrong Again


William Perry Pendley[Email him] of the Mountain States Legal Foundation has written an article about Plyler Vs. Doe, the 1982 decision that allegedly says that American school boards have to provide free education to illegal aliens.[Guest Commentary: Public education and illegal immigrants,By William Perry Pendley, The Denver Post, March 12, 2011.]

Note that these aren`t the American-born children of illegals, they`re children and youths who are themselves illegally present in the United States. Pendley argues that the decision doesn`t, in fact, prevent all state action against illegal immigrants in the school system:

“In fact, Plyler does not prohibit a state from denying primary education to illegal immigrants. Plyler holds only that, if a state wants to do that, it needs a better reason than Texas had in 1982.

A state might very well make a better, more persuasive case today because the “facts on the ground” have changed since 1982. But even within the confines of the Plyler ruling, states have far more latitude than commonly assumed. It is remarkable that so few elected officials and education leaders have taken time to read the ruling and separate fact from fiction.

The Plyler ruling applies only to elementary education, not to secondary and post-secondary education. It does not hold that public education is a right. Nor does it confer legal status on illegal immigrant children or prevent them from being arrested and deported. Finally, it does not prevent a school from inquiring as to the legal status of students enrolled in school.

It is undoubtedly true that any state that attempts to deny a free education to children who are illegal immigrants will be taken to court by the ACLU and other groups. But we ought to welcome that opportunity to bring new arguments and new facts to the Supreme Court`s attention. The legal arguments over the “substantial state interest” associated with that free education might very well play out very differently today.

For example, the cost to Texas taxpayers for providing that education in 1982 was only a fraction of what it is today in Texas and many other states. In an era of multibillion- dollar state budget deficits, that financial burden is quite substantial. No one can deny that these costs significantly reduce the funds available to provide a quality education to children who are citizens and legal residents.”[More]

So there are things that can be done, in spite of the Supreme Court`s ruling. One of Russell Pearce`s bills in Arizona is SB 1407, designed to collect data on how many undocumented students are in Arizona schools. (Just the number, unfortunately, not, like, a list of names and addresses that could be forwarded to Immigration And Customs Enforcement.)

One educational bureaucrat in Colorado testified recently that collecting that kind of data is illegal–because of Plyler Vs. Doe. Pendley points out that this wrong–there`s nothing about that in the decision.

I`d be tempted to argue that it`s not only allowed, it`s practically mandatory. You know all those charts of racial diversity in schools we use? Those are based on information that the schools are required to make public–because they need to show that they`re complying  with Brown Vs. Board.

I`m sure that if Eric Holder`s Justice Department thought that Arizona was denying illegals their Supreme Court mandated education, they`d want to know these statistics for another backstabbing lawsuit. Why shouldn`t Arizona collect them?