Many educators are not aware that the education of undocumented students is guaranteed by the Plyler vs. Doe decision or that certain procedures must be followed when registering immigrant children in school to avoid violating restrictions on obtaining personal information without obtaining prior parental consent.

In Plyler vs. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that undocumented children and young adults have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools as do U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Like other children, undocumented students in fact are required under state law to attend school until they reach a mandated age. As a result of the Plyler ruling, public schools may not deny admission to a student on the basis of undocumented status, treat a student differently to determine residency, or require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status.

The Supreme Court arrived at this decision because such practices:

  • Victimize innocent children – Children of undocumented workers do not choose the conditions under which they enter the United States. They should not be punished for circumstances they do not control. Children have the right to learn and be useful members of society.
  • Hurt more than they claim to help – Denying children access to education will not eliminate illegal immigration. Instead, it ensures the creation of an underclass. Without public education for children, illiteracy rates will increase, and opportunities for workforce and community participation will decrease. Research has proven that for every $1 spent on the education of children, at least $9 is returned.
  • Turn public school teachers and officials into INS agents – Rather than teaching students, school officials could spend their time asking our 33.6 million school children about their citizenship status. States would be forced to spend millions of dollars to do the work of the INS.
  • Promote misinformation – Incorrect assumptions and inappropriate figures have been used to blame immigrants and their children for economic problems.
  • Support racism and discrimination – Historically, financially troubled times breed increased racism. Children of undocumented workers should not be the scapegoats.

At IDRA, we are working to create schools that work for all children, families and communities. Help us make this goal a reality for every child; we simply cannot afford the alternatives. Denying children of undocumented workers access to an education is unconstitutional and against the law.

Excerpted in part from: Lessons Learned, Lessons Shared: Texas Immigrant Education Collaborative (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, December 1998).

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at

[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]