'Pathetic' and 'Racist': Critics Slam Gov. Greg Abbott's Stance on Educating Undocumented Students

The future of undocumented students could be on the line in Texas.
The future of undocumented students could be on the line in Texas. Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash
As the November election nears, Gov. Greg Abbott veers ever more right with attacks on immigrants, women and transgender children. Now, he’s widened his scope to target yet another vulnerable group: undocumented kids.

On Wednesday, the Republican incumbent appeared on the conservative Joe Pags Show, touching on topics ranging from border security to the Supreme Court’s leaked abortion opinion draft.

But before long, Abbott hinted that he wants to up the far-right ante. He said Texas may pursue a challenge to another Supreme Court decision, 1982's Plyler v. Doe, which prevents states from withholding education from certain children, including undocumented ones.

“I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many decades ago,” Abbott said, as first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

When news broke that the Supreme Court will likely soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion, it sparked anxieties nationwide. Some fear that the move to return such issues to the states could lead to the revocation of additional freedoms, including gay marriage.

During the interview, Abbott also claimed that it was Texas that sued the federal government in Plyler v. Doe. But he had it wrong, said Celina Moreno, CEO of the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit aimed at attaining equity in education. It was actually the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund that filed suit against Texas over a state law that allowed districts to withhold public education from non-“legal” foreign-born children, she said.

Moreno warned that removing access to education will create an underclass of Americans. That could lead to lower literacy rates, plus fewer workforce opportunities and taxpayer dollars. “That’s really dangerous, because I think all children have the right to learn and be useful members of society,” she said.

In a statement Thursday, Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo said the governor’s latest threat displays the highest level of callousness in Texas politics to date.

If Abbott gets what he’s proposing, it would impede schools across the state and give the green light for bigoted adults to pester children about their legal status, he said. Even students who are here legally could have to answer for it, based on their accent or skin color.

"Our governor is eager to attack the livelihoods of Texas immigrant families any chance he gets." – Jessica Azua, Texas Organizing Project

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Education paves the way for children to grow into productive adults who benefit society, something the Supreme Court had previously understood, Capo continued. It’s also a sound economic move because it gives Texas and the country a competitive edge.

“This November, we have an opportunity to get back to the big and bold thinking Texas is known for or continue the cruel, small-minded thinking of a governor destined to isolate our state and erode our standing as a powerhouse across the world,” he added. “Texas, it’s time for change.”

Political rivals and other critics took to social media on Thursday to condemn Abbott, including the Texas House Democratic Caucus. In a tweet, they slammed the governor's proposal as part of a series of attacks on undocumented immigrants.

“Abbott continues his campaign against public ed by cruelly attacking Texas kids' freedom to learn to score points with his extremist supporters,” the group wrote. “All children, regardless of immigration status, deserve access to high-quality, free education.”
The governor has a politically motivated desire to “demonize and inflict as much harm as possible on underserved working-class families of color," said Jessica Azua, Immigration Justice Campaign director with the Texas Organizing Project.

In a statement to the Observer, she said the timing of the Supreme Court leak and Abbott’s remarks isn’t coincidental.

“Our governor is eager to attack the livelihoods of Texas immigrant families any chance he gets, and with this latest Supreme Court development, he now sees an opportunity to deny migrant children access to the public education they deserve, and he’s pursuing it,” she said. “It’s [as] pathetic as it is racist.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter