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Texas educators fear Abbott's effort to kick undocumented children out of school

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·3 min read
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is set to challenge Plyler v. Doe, the 1982 Supreme Court ruling that ensured free public education for all children, including undocumented immigrants.

Abbott, a Republican, announced that he would revisit the Supreme Court case on May 6 during an appearance on the conservative talk radio program “The Joe Pags Show,” saying the federal government should be paying for undocumented children’s education. Abbott has taken up the issue now because Title 42, the Trump-era policy that allows Customs and Border Protection officials to expel migrants back to Mexico, will soon be ending.

Abbott argued that the public education system in Texas is being overwhelmed by the number of undocumented students enrolled. “I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again,” he said on the program. “Because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many decades ago.”

Elizabeth Santos with her graduating class.
Elizabeth Santos with her graduating class. (Elizabeth Santos)

According to Higher Ed Immigration Portal, there are 1,644,000 students enrolled in public schools in the state of Texas, 58,255 of them undocumented. The United States as a whole is home to more than 427,000 undocumented students.

Many educators in immigrant-heavy districts do not agree with Abbott. Elizabeth Alba Santos, the first vice president of District I of the Houston Independent School District, told Yahoo News she has seen students go on to be productive members of society, like public school teachers, lawyers and politicians.

“Many of my students, my former students, are now teachers that were once undocumented, and so many of my students have gone on to further their education,” Santos said.

“The ripple effect [of Abbott’s plan] is literally denying a future for communities ... and dividing people against each other,” Santos, the daughter of Mexican American immigrants, said.

Santos has been active with the district since 1986 and believes that free public education is essential for all students regardless of their citizenship status. She said the effects of denying public education to undocumented students could be devastating.

“We would lose millions of dollars in funding, school districts will begin denying enrollment to children and communities will become unsafe,” she said. “Not to mention our classroom dynamics: We make our students thrive off of one another, and they learn from each other. And I can’t stress that enough, the diversity of a classroom in both socioeconomic status, religion, these things, because all of who we are makes up every bit of every individual person.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Yahoo News contacted Abbott’s office for comment on the issue, but it did not immediately respond.

Other Texas school leaders believe that the state should put the focus on providing a strong education for all students and leave politics out of it. In a statement released to families, Waco Independent School District Superintendent Susan Kincannon said that singling out a small group of vulnerable students won’t solve problems.

“Regardless of how our students’ families got here, though, they are our neighbors now, and we all benefit when our students receive an education that enables them to contribute to our community,” Kincannon said.

Santos said she will continue to fight for all her students to have access to a free public education.

“We have undocumented children that are growing up and becoming Dreamers. They’re lawyers, doctors, they’re helping our economy at all levels. And this is something that makes America very unique, that we do welcome immigrants and bring in the best and the brightest, the hardest-working, really heroes of America,” she said.