In the aftermath of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Texas Governor Greg Abbott discussed revisiting the 1982 Supreme Court ruling Plyler v. Doe requiring states to provide education to undocumented children.
Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, professor of immigration law at the Cornell Law School, directs the Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic and is an expert on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and special immigrant juvenile status.
“The draft decision in Roe has no relationship to Plyler v. Doe, except that both these cases have long been considered well-settled law on critical civil rights issues. Gov. Abbott is taking the possibility of overturning Roe as an opening to go after unrelated, settled precedent. Plyler is based on the idea that all children, whether or not lawfully present, are ‘persons’ under the Constitution. To attack Plyler is thus an extreme position, suggesting that only documented people are ‘persons.’ Gov. Abbott may be mostly conducting political theater — there is no legal path to challenge Plyler at the moment.
“Still, the idea that any major case, like Plyler, could now be overturned is not only alarming for vulnerable groups like immigrant children and their families — it is catastrophic for our entire legal system. For example, from Plyler came related policies on education and inclusion of immigrants, including DACA. Without bedrock cases like Plyler staying settled, subsequent policies are at risk, and the entire legal project can unravel.”