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Texas governor says the state may contest a Supreme Court ruling on migrant education

By Bill Chappell
Border Patrol officers process a migrant family after they crossed the Rio Grande into the U.S. on Thursday in Roma, Texas. (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says his state shouldn't have to provide free public schooling to undocumented students — despite a longstanding Supreme Court decision that says the opposite.

The high court's Plyler v. Doe ruling of 1982 struck down a Texas law that did two things: it denied state funds for any students deemed not to have lawfully entered the U.S., and it allowed local public school districts to deny admission to those children.

Abbott first made his remarks about the landmark education decision on Wednesday, in the aftermath of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Abbott said the court's 1982 ruling had imposed an unfair burden on his state.

"I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different" from when the decision came down, Abbott said in an interview with conservative radio host Joe Pagliarulo.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the Texas legislation violated the Constitution's equal protection clause and would create a distinct underclass.

An advocacy group slams Abbott for his remarks

In response to Abbot's remarks, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund — which filed the original case on behalf of four families whose children were denied a public education — sharply criticized the governor.

Abbott is seeking "to inflict by intention the harms that nine justices agreed should be avoided 40 years ago," said Thomas Saenz, MALDEF's president and general counsel, in a news release.

The 1982 decision was a 5-4 ruling. But the justices who dissented in the case did indeed say that it was "senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children — including illegal aliens — of an elementary education."

Their dissent opinion, written by then-Chief Justice Warren Burger, said the court's majority was overreaching to compensate for the lack of "effective leadership" from Congress on immigration.

Saenz also said that unlike Roe v. Wade, the Plyler decision has been incorporated into federal law.

Migrants wait to be processed after crossing the Rio Grande into the U.S. on Tuesday in La Joya, Texas. (Brandon Bell / Getty Images / Getty Images)

The governor predicts a coming influx of migrants

After his initial remarks, Abbott reiterated on Thursday that his state is in an untenable position.

"The Supreme Court has ruled states have no authority themselves to stop illegal immigration into the states," Abbott said, according to The Texas Tribune. "However, after the Plyler decision they say, 'Nevertheless, states have to come out of pocket to pay for the federal government's failure to secure the border.' So one or both of those decisions will have to go."

Abbott said Texas' challenges will get worse when the Biden administration ends the Trump-era public health order known as Title 42, which has barred migrants from the U.S. to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The shift will bring a new influx of immigrants, he said.

In that respect, the governor is echoing an argument his state made in the Supreme Court case about 40 years ago. In that hearing, then-Texas Assistant Attorney General Richard Arnett said Texas was hoping to discourage immigrants from entering the state illegally.

"The problem is not the kids that are here," he said. "The problem is the future."

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Dive Deeper:
Texas Gov. Abbott sparks backlash with talk of rolling back free school for immigrant kids
AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott has infuriated immigration advocates and educators by suggesting Texas may challenge a longstanding U.S.…
EXPLAINER: Schools may be Texas' next immigration fight
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants to challenge another decades-old U.S. Supreme Court precedent that requires public schools to educate students…
Louisiana Republicans advance bill to make abortion a crime of murder
Since supreme court draft ruling was published, Democrats have warned of a likely torrent of challenges to established rights
When Roe goes, so go public schools?
Following Alito's reasoning on Roe, public schools aren't in the Constitution — and Republicans are now salivating
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
What is Roe v Wade and did it get overturned?
Ruling enshrined women’s right to terminate a pregnancy
What is Roe v Wade and did it get overturned?
Ruling enshrined women’s right to terminate a pregnancy
Get all your news in one place