Fixing a Broken System
In 1975, Texas revised education statutes in a manner that allowed the state to withhold funds for the education of children who did not legally enter the United States and permitted local school districts to charge tuition for educating undocumented students. Public anger over these revisions culminated in a landmark United States Supreme Court case, Plyer v. Doe in 1982.
In an opinion written by Justice William Brennan, the Court struck down the revisions made by Texas to their education statutes and for the first time, extended the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection to undocumented immigrants. The effect of this decision was the education of an entire generation of undocumented students who now, because of the inaction of Congress, cannot pursue an education beyond high school.
Even as courts across the country continue to strike down or halt measures attempting to restrict the opportunities of undocumented students, most of whom were brought to this country though no choice of their own and who do not know they are undocumented until they begin the college application process, there have been repeated attempts to curb undocumented immigration.
Sen. Durbin of Illinois, a champion of comprehensive immigration reform, can be called nothing if not persistent. For the last ten years and the previous five Congressional sessions, he has introduced the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. If passed, the DREAM Act would provide undocumented youth who have graduated from high school in the United States with a pathway to citizenship by allowing them the opportunity to attend college or serve in the military. The fact that the Supreme Court guaranteed these children the ability to attain a K-12 education in this country is commendable, but the inability of our government to agree on a way to allow these American-educated children to be productive members of a society in which they have lived their entire lives is infuriating.
Jewish tradition is clear on the treatment of immigrants, demanding of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Leviticus commands, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” [19:33-34]. This principle is echoed 35 times in the Torah.
The line of thought used by those who oppose the DREAM Act is that their ancestors followed the “system” and entered this country legally may be factually true, but with the broken system we have today and have had for well more than a decade it comes as no surprise that people come to the United States without proper documentation. We cannot continue to punish the children who are brought to this country without the knowledge that they are violating the law. We have a responsibility to allow them access to the same opportunities after high school graduation as we do any other child.
President Obama has taken a bold step forward and has shown his commitment to fixing our immigration system via executive order by offering relief from removal and work authorization to qualifying young people. Our government needs to work together to care for these children who have grown up and been educated in this country because of a guarantee made by the highest court in the land. Thirty years may have passed since Plyer v. Doe was decided, but it seems as though nothing has changed. We must stand up for those who do not have a voice by urging Congress to pass the DREAM Act to allow these American-raised children the same opportunities as all children in this nation.