Why controversy over undocumented teen rape suspect is moot

maryland undocumented student rape school sot _00000803
maryland undocumented student rape school sot _00000803

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Story highlights

  • An undocumented teen is accused of raping a student in a high school bathroom
  • A Supreme Court ruling says undocumented children shouldn't be denied basic education

(CNN)The alleged rape of a girl at a Maryland high school has taken on political significance, with news that one of the suspects is an undocumented immigrant.

But debate about whether the suspect should have been in school is moot. A Supreme Court case says public schools must serve all students equally, regardless of immigration status.
"It's the law of the land," said Jack R. Smith, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, where the alleged rape took place. "That's based on Plyler v. Doe."

    What is Plyler v. Doe?

    Plyler v. Doe is a 1982 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas statute denying public education funds for children who were in the country illegally.
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    The Court ruled that Texas' statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says no state should deny anyone in its territory "the equal protection of the laws."
    At the time, Judge Harry Blackmun said those children had no say in their circumstances or their "illegality." And the Court ruled that undocumented children should not be denied a basic education "for so long as they are present in this country through no fault of their own."
    Denying undocumented children a basic education would have severe consequences, said Michael A. Olivas, a law professor and author of the book "No Undocumented Child Left Behind."
    "You have to ask yourself what would happen to these schoolchildren if they're not allowed in school," said Olivas, now the interim president of University of Houston-Downtown.
    "What would happen to your kids? They'd be unsupervised. They'd be prey to all sorts of malevolent influences. They'd be uneducated."
    Aside from that, Olivas told CNN, "state truancy laws require all students to be in school."

    Why is Plyler v. Doe relevant now?

    Henry Sanchez-Milian, one of the two students accused of raping a 14-year-old girl at Rockville High School, was in the country illegally, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said.
    Henry Sanchez-Milian
    "According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security databases, in August 2016, Henry Sanchez-Milian was encountered by a border patrol agent in Rio Valley Grande, Texas, who determined the individual had unlawfully entered the United States from Mexico," ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said.
    "Sanchez-Milian was issued a notice to appear in front of an immigration judge, which is currently waiting to be scheduled."
    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited the Maryland case as an example of the need to get tough on illegal immigration.
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    "I think part of the reason the President has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this," he said.
    But Smith, the superintendent, cited Plyler v. Doe in saying a student's immigration status is irrelevant.
    "We do not know what anyone's immigration status is in the school system because the law says we don't collect that, and we don't," Smith said.
    "It's wholly and entirely inappropriate for us to say we're going to deprive ... (students) of an education because a horrible incident happened last Thursday in one of our schools."

    Who were the other students involved?

    The other teen suspect, 17-year-old Jose Montano, will be tried as an adult. ICE officials would not comment on Montano's citizenship, citing his age.
    Like Sanchez-Milian, Montano has been charged with first-degree rape and two counts each of committing a first-degree sexual offense, Montgomery County Police said.
    They're accused of raping the girl in a boys' bathroom of the school.
    Sanchez-Milian and Montano have not yet been assigned public defenders, according to the county public defender's office, and neither has yet entered a plea.

    What about school safety?

    Smith, the superintendent, said the alleged rape is "horrible and terrible," but said it's important to know "it's not about who's here, based on what documents. It's not about any group of students."
    He also said the incident shouldn't change perceptions about safety in his district's public schools.
    "We serve 160,000 students across 204 schools, and those schools are safe," Smith said. "This horrible incident shouldn't change anyone's mind that the schools are safe for our students."