- No Undocumented Child Left Behind: Plyler v. Doe and the Education of Undocumented Schoolchildren by Michael A. Olivas
University of Houston law professor Michael A. Olivas’s brief book on the 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, which ruled that a Texas provision that allowed local school districts to charge tuition to undocumented schoolchildren was unconstitutional, is a fascinating legal analysis of the effect of the decision and how it has withstood legal challenges in the thirty years since the high court handed down the decision. Olivas’s book, however, is not a standard case history of the decision; instead, it is more an informal legal seminar on the effects of the case, its implementation and results, and the author’s own musings on the future of undocumented students in the United States.
Olivas states that the decision was “the true high-water mark of immigrant rights in the United States” (36), but the historical background of the Pyler case, and what led up to the decision to file, as well as other cases that contributed to the history of the litigation is only the set decoration for what is really an analysis of the state of recent immigration law in the United States. Only one of the four chapters in No Undocumented Child Left Behind is conventionally historical in nature. In the next chapter he connects the Plyler decision to the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, a bill first introduced by Illinois Senator Richard Durbin and Utah Senator Orin Hatch, which would provide a path to naturalization for undocumented youth who have earned a college degree or served honorably in the U.S. armed forces. Olivas’s analysis has so far proven correct. He states, “The holding of Plyler v. Doe that allowed undocumented schoolchildren to enroll freely in elementary and secondary schools has been challenged but has remained good law nearly thirty years after the 1982 decision” (74).
At the time of this review, the Obama administration has practically accepted the tenets of the DREAM act, and the recent June 2012 Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. United States, seems to validated Professor Olivas’s statement that “state, county and local ordinances aimed at regulating general immigration functions are unconstitutional as a function of exclusive federal preemptory powers” (37). He maintains that “if there were a group that holds promise to become productive, [End Page 108] long-term residents and citizens, alien college students would surely be that group” (91).
Olivas’s book on the Pyler decision cannot be considered the definitive history of the case, but it is a good starting point for further historical study of the case, and especially its implications on late twentieth-century Texas history. Moreover, it is a good reference on the legal aspects that have informed the nation’s present tangle of immigration laws and practices. As he explains, “Immigration will continue to claim a permanent place in the congressional agenda, especially in a globalized world where the United States will require immigrants, and they will come” (86).