Two articles about young people in search of an education caught my attention last week. Both appeared in The Times on the same day. One celebrated the improbable journey of a young man “from a Rwandan dump to the halls of Harvard.” Justus Uwayesu, photographed in front of the iconic John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard, didn’t run as the other children did when a American charity worker approached them more than a decade ago as they scavenged for food. “I want to go to school,” the boy told his American rescuer. This fall, he enrolled as a freshman at Harvard. The other story reported the intervention of New York State officials in a scandalous situation in suburban school districts in the New York City area. Faced with an influx of undocumented Central American children whom immigration authorities have released to live with relatives or other sponsors, school districts in the region seem to be doing their best to keep these kids out of school.
School officials know they can’t demand proof of legal immigration status, thanks to Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that states can’t exclude undocumented children from the free public education provided to all other children. So school systems have been demanding proof of residency in the district, which families who are trying to make the best of patchwork and last-minute arrangements often can’t provide. The bureaucratic impasse has left these children, finally safe from the gang violence that led to their long journeys north, languishing in their new homes. The state is investigating. “The students have a constitutional right to be educated,” John B. King Jr., New York’s education commissioner, said last week.
Human potential enabled, and human potential suppressed: The two stories are opposite sides of the coin. I’ll focus here on the undocumented children, and on the brief, shining moment 32 years ago when the conservative Burger court ruled for the undocumented children. But this isn’t just a walk down memory lane. The story of Plyler v. Doe contains a lesson for the Roberts court today.
Full Article: A Supreme Court Misstep On Voting Rights – NYTimes.com.