Children who immigrate to the U.S. are entitled to free public education

COLUMBIA (WACH) - Cacilia Lopez moved to the United States from Mexico 10 years ago. She now has three children in the Columbia public school system

"All three of them love math. They love math and they love to read. They read a lot." says Lopez.

Cecilia's children, and children whose parents are currently undocumented, are able to attend public schools because of a Supreme Court decision that was rendered more than 30 years ago.

Back in 1982, Plyler v. Doe was a landmark decision outlining the treatment of students who may have recently come to the U.S. with their parents from another country.

Columbia attorney Lawrence Needle has practiced Immigration Law for more than 20 years.

"It was a decision that said that all children, whether or not they are undocumented or not, have the legal right to a public school education. Only applying to kids k-12." says Needle.

Plyler v. Doe laid the groundwork for how every public school across the country has to conduct themselves when it comes to children whose family's immigration status may be in question.

"They are entitled to that education, regardless of their immigration status, and nor can a school administrator ask for proof of legal status before deciding whether to admit that student to that school. The only requirement is that they show proof of residence for example. They have to reside in that district." says Needle.

Not only is every child entitled to a free public education, but they are also entitled to the same federal programs as every other student.

Things like free school breakfast and lunch programs.

"Once we have agreed to admit them, then they are to be treated the same as any other children. Those who are below the poverty line are entitled to those kinds of benefits, as well as these immigrant children. We do not discriminate." says Needle.

However, there is a line in the sand when it comes to how long a free education can be offered.

"South Carolina does have a law in place that says if you wish to attend college, you have to prove your lawful status in order to attend college. So the rules are very different matriculating for college as opposed to grades k-12." explains Needle.

Needle adds one of the reasons the Supreme Court made the decision it did was because it saw how the actions of a parent should not dictate the future of their child.

"Essentially, the Court said there was no compelling state interest to deny these kids an education. Basically saying, they came over with parents or relatives at a very young age. So regardless of the reasons for their entry, the kids are not responsible for that. Why hold the kids responsible for the actions of their parents." states Needle.

Despite the reason why the Supreme Court ruled the way it did, Cacilia is grateful for the way this country has opened its arms to her children.

"When they have a very good education, they can have a very good future." says Lopez.

A future that was determined by a decision made 32 years ago.