Educating All Students

Providing high-quality public education to all U.S. children, regardless of their immigration status, is beneficial to all Americans as well as being required under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Educating all children is good public policy and a wise use of tax dollars. Well-educated persons are able to contribute more to society by earning more in wages, paying more in taxes, receiving fewer public benefits, and experiencing better health.1

Contrary to much false anti-immigrant rhetoric, undocumented immigrants DO pay the state and local taxes that provide the bulk of the funding for public education. There is, of course, no property or sales tax exemption for undocumented immigrants. The children of undocumented immigrants, therefore, merely receive those public education services for which their parents have paid. Many studies have shown that undocumented immigrants on average pay more in state and local taxes than they receive in public services (including education). For the fiscal 2005 year in Texas, for example, there were 1.4 million undocumented immigrants, who generated $1.58 billion in state revenues, which exceeded the $1.16 billion in state services they received.2

The Supreme Court has ruled that denying education to undocumented immigrants is not only bad public policy, it offends core American principles of justice and equality under law:
Sheer incapability or lax enforcement of the laws barring entry into this country . . . has resulted in the creation of a substantial "shadow population" of illegal migrants - numbering in the millions - within our borders. This situation raises the specter of a permanent caste of undocumented resident aliens, encouraged by some to remain here as a source of cheap labor, but nevertheless denied the benefits that our society makes available to citizens and lawful residents. The existence of such an underclass presents most difficult problems for a Nation that prides itself on adherence to principles of equality under law.3

The Supreme Court then ruled that denying undocumented children access to public education violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.4 The Constitution requires equal access to K-12 education services for undocumented children because “it is . . . difficult to conceive of a rational justification for penalizing these children for their presence within the United States. Yet that appears to be precisely the effect” of laws that would deny schooling to undocumented children.5

Noting that “legislation directing the onus of a parent’s misconduct against his children does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice,” the Court affirmed Supreme Court precedent regarding penalizing children for their parents’ actions:
[V]isiting . . . condemnation on the head of an infant is illogical and unjust. Moreover, imposing disabilities on the . . . child is contrary to the basic concept of our system that legal burdens should bear some relationship to individual responsibility or wrongdoing. Obviously, no child is responsible for his birth and penalizing the . . . child is an ineffectual – as well as unjust – way of deterring the parent.6

Educating undocumented students is, therefore, A) good public policy - because educated people contribute more to society; B) fair - because all parents pay taxes and we should not penalize children for their parents’ actions; and C) required under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

1. If the 1.2 million U.S. dropouts in the class of 2007 had graduated instead of dropping out of school, they would have contributed $329 billion in their lifetime earnings to the U.S. economy. See High school graduates on average earn $9,245 more per year than high school dropouts. See The College Board’s Education Pays 2007 report found that “higher levels of education correspond to lower unemployment and poverty rates. So, in addition to contributing more to tax revenues than others do, adults with higher levels of education are less likely to depend on social safety-net programs:"  A 2007 study by the California Dropout Research Project, “The Economic Losses from High School Dropouts in California,” found that high school graduation reduces violent crime by 20 percent, property crime by 11 percent, and drug-related offenses by 12 percent. California loses $2.5 billion in crime expenditures for each cohort of dropouts; dropouts have a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, depression and other serious conditions.
2. "Undocumented Immigrants in Texas: A financial Analysis of the Impact to the State Budget and Economy." Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, December 2006.
3. Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 220 (1982).
4. Id.
5. Id.
6. Id. (citing Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164, 175 (1972)).

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund