The Invisible Class

As a junior in high school, Michael Lopez is starting to think about college. He wants to study history or geography and perhaps become a teacher.

Like many teenagers, Michael professes his love of learning, then he cautions that he is not a bookworm. But he knows, all too well, that the opportunity to read and go on to college is nothing to scoff at.

“My education means almost everything to me,” Michael says. “And if it wasn’t for the change that happened, I don’t think I would be able to speak the way I speak or write the way I write, so I’m glad I have the opportunities for those privileges.”

The “change” Michael refers to is Plyler v. Doe, a landmark 1982 lawsuit over the education of the children of illegal immigrants. Michael’s grandparents, Lidia and Jose Lopez, and three families of undocumented Mexican immigrants filed the lawsuit to force Texas’ Tyler Independent School District to provide services to their children without questioning their citizenship status.

Twenty-five years later, as a renewed debate over immigration policies roils through the country and Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling for those families in Plyler v. Doe has taken on heightened significance. About 1.8 million of the estimated 11.5 to 12 million unauthorized migrants in the United States are children under age 18, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

“Undocumented children are going to grow up and most of them will become legalized. Virtually all of them will stay in this country,” says Peter Roos, an attorney who represented the families in the lawsuit. “If you educate these children they are more likely to be productive members of society and less of a drain.” 

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