Are schools the next target of the “great replacement theory” conspirators? – Center for Public Integrity
Next month will mark the 40th anniversary of Plyler v. Doea landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring public schools to educate all children, regardless of immigration status.
But with the high court potentially overturning decades-old precedent in the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sees potential opening to rescind Plylernative to his state.
Abbott wants the federal government cover the cost to educate undocumented children in Texas. He argues that the costs imposed on school districts are “extraordinary” and that “the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe has been published”. Immigration and civil rights groups across Texas and the country dismissed the statement as inflammatory.
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), spoke with Public Integrity about Abbott’s remarks and the chilling effect they could have on immigrant families, even those with U.S. citizen children.
MALDEF submitted the initial file on behalf of four immigrant families whose children were denied a public education in Tyler, Texas. The school district wanted to require undocumented parents to pay up to $1,000 per child in tuition and fees to have their children attend public schools.
In his majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan concluded that “education provides the basic tools by which individuals could lead economically productive lives for the benefit of all of us” and that states could not constitutionally deny these opportunities to undocumented children.
The interview with Saenz has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Do Governor Abbott’s remarks on questioning Plyler v. Doe signal the beginning of an organized effort to undermine the protections of undocumented children and the children of immigrants?
[Abbott] just grabs different things that fall under a larger theme of being anti-immigrant that he seems to have built his re-election campaign on. Extension to Plyler [probably] wasn’t really where Abbot wanted to go, but he’s pursuing an anti-immigrant campaign, so it’s certainly consistent with that. Targeting children is never a good strategy. I don’t really think he wants to have thousands of out-of-school kids because that won’t support him.
Back to family separations at the border. This is where Donald Trump almost immediately had to backtrack on his own policy because the images of children aroused sympathy.
That said, if this is a considered decision, it may be because [of] this replacement theory of the racist right. the replacement theory is based on increasing numbers. Thus, children are somewhat an indication of the growing number of adults in the future. So to the extent that he has thought about it, perhaps it is consistent with this racist replacement theory that has spread in some Republican circles.
Q: What is the Plyler v. Doe decision for children and families?
The Plyler kids, if you will, are the younger version of DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipients or what have been called the Dreamers. These are those kids in kindergarten through 12th grade. This therefore created opportunities, not only for themselves and their family members, but also for their communities and neighborhoods.
Even though Plyler is 40 years old, there is still a lot of knowledge gap: [that] it is a well-established law, it is constitutional, and that it must be followed so that [people] can overcome the fears that can be engendered by truly irresponsible comments like Abbott’s. For some, this may be enough to avoid sending children to school. And it is a great evil for everyone.
Q: MALDEF has warned Arizona districts of the potential Plyler v. Doe offences. Are public schools in some states intentionally making it difficult for undocumented children to enroll in school?
What is its prevalence? It’s hard to say. We tend to see violations in practice occur more in states and regions that are newer to having significant undocumented populations. So we don’t tend to see violations of the practice in states like Texas or California. It tends to be in other states that are less used to having a large undocumented population.
In fgeneral, just one letter [to resolve the matter]. Usually, violations are not meant to be violations, so once they come to their attention, schools change them. Indeed, in some cases, it is just a lower level employee who decides alone to require a social security number.
Ten years ago, the the state of Alabama attempted to accomplish the same by collecting data on [the immigration status] parents and children in public schools. … But rarely does a school district [or state] … will try to start getting data on the status of people. When you do this, it discourages registration and attendance and therefore can have the same impact as a ban.
Early in the Trump administration, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a congressional hearing that admitting undocumented students was a problem. decision to be made by each district, which is simply wrong under Plyler. And she had to immediately backtrack, but even that kind of irresponsible comment has an impact.
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