Crime and Punishment: You Decide

From Sentenced Home collection, lesson plan 2 of 4

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade Level: 9-12, College

Subject areas: Social Studies, Current Events, Language Arts, Debate, Sociology, Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement, Ethics, Psychology

Purpose of the lesson: This lesson teaches students about some of the laws related to immigrants convicted of crimes and encourages students to form opinions about the legal system and the policies related to convicted immigrants.


Students will:

  • Learn about current immigration and deportation laws and policies
  • Form and state opinions related to immigration and deportation laws
  • Utilize critical viewing and reading skills
  • Practice note taking strategies
  • Conduct research about other cases involving immigrant or refugee deportation
  • Prepare a written report about the research case and share that in an oral presentation to classmates
  • Interact with family members or other adults to collect their opinions about deportation issues
  • Create projects that reflect individual opinions about immigration and deportation laws and share these with classmates


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussion and in writing, critical reading and viewing, research, persuasive writing techniques, note taking, oral presentation


  • Computers with Internet access and/or with DVD capability
  • LCD projector or DVD player
  • Whiteboard/markers, or chalkboard/chalk
  • Sentenced Home Film Modules 1, 2 and 3 (can be streamed or ordered on DVD)
  • Teacher Handouts A and B, Sentenced Home quotes
  • Desktop publishing software and assorted art supplies are optional

National teaching standards addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards in Educator’s Guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

National Council for Teachers of English/International Reading Association

National Council for the Social Studies

Curricula Writer: Lisa Prososki

Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school English, social studies, reading and technology courses for 12 years. Prososki has worked extensively with PBS, authoring and editing many lesson plans for various PBS programs and TeacherSource.

Advisor, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy

Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy is a research associate at the Education Development Center. Originally born in Laos, she taught for ten years as an elementary teacher, literacy specialist, and Asian American studies instructor. She is currently working on her dissertation at Harvard University investigating the dropout rates of Southeast Asian American students.

See Educator Guide for full listing of credits

Class Preparation: Make two signs, one that says, “Agree” and another that reads “Disagree” and hang these on opposite sides of the classroom before students arrive. Create a third sign that says “Not sure. Depends.” And place it on the floor in the center of the room right before starting the activity in Step 6.

When someone is convicted of a crime in the U.S., they are generally sentenced and allowed to resume their lives once the sentence has been served. However, permanent resident aliens who are not U.S. citizens are no longer able to remain in the U.S. after serving their sentences. Sweeping changes were made to immigration law in 1996 in the wake of the first World Trade Center bombing. After 9/11, new policies required more stringent enforcement of the deportation laws. This lesson examines the laws governing this group of immigrants and encourages students to form opinions about the legal system and the policies related to convicted immigrants.

  1. Distribute Student Handout A: What’s Your Opinion? and provide students with 5-7 minutes to complete it.

  2. Discuss each statement on the handout and encourage a number of volunteers to address each question so students see the varying points of view.

  3. Introduce the Sentenced Home Film Modules 1, 2 and 3, by explaining to students that they will be seeing the story of two men who, despite having grown up in the U.S. as Cambodian refugees, now face deportation because of crimes they committed as gang members.

  4. Distribute Student Handout B: Story Chart and view Sentenced Home Film Modules 1 and 2. In addition, read aloud each man’s short biography. Provide students with 3-5 minutes to complete the Story Chart.

  5. Provide students with background information about current U.S. Immigration Policy by distributing copies of or reading the information. As you share this information with students, encourage them to record additional questions or responses to what has happened to each of the men profiled in the film on their Story Charts. Direct students to view Sentenced Home Film Module 3 to learn more about the enforcement of current deportation laws.

  6. Using data from the Story Chart, call out the crimes committed by each person in the film one at a time. Direct students to stand near the sign that most closely represents their point of view about whether or not the person should be deported as a result of committing this crime. Select volunteers to give reasons for their choices. After all crimes have been discussed, send students back to their seats and close the activity by discussing questions such as:

    • Do you think it is fair for people who came to the U.S. as small children to be sent back to the country where they were born? Why?
    • Do you believe deportation is an effective way to make the country safer?
    • In what ways could deporting people like those in the film be detrimental to the U.S.?
    • Do you think judges should be given the power to review such cases on a case-by-case basis? Why?
    • Can you think of any alternative to deportation that could be used in cases such as those profiled in the film?
  7. Take the discussion a bit further by providing students with copies of or reading the articles entitled “Deported for Shoplifting”and “The International Reach of the Mara Salvatrucha.” As students read each article, they should highlight the crimes/problems that are the focus of the article as well as the justice system’s solution to the problem and information about the effectiveness of the solution. Discuss the articles and relate them to one another and the film clips using questions such as:

    • Should “alien criminals” have the same rights to due process as Americans with citizenship? Why?
    • Looking at the cases sited in the articles, the cases of Many, Kim, and Winona Ryder, discuss whether or not gender, race and socioeconomic status become factors in the way justice is carried out in the U.S.
    • Do you think deportation is a deterrent to crime or that it decreases criminal activity in the U.S.? Why?
    • Do you agree or disagree with the author of the Wynona Ryder article? Why?
  8. Working in small groups, have students conduct research about other cases where people living in the U.S. have been deported or currently face deportation. Summarize your case by writing a two to three paragraph description that explains when the person came to the U.S., from what country they came, background about the person’s life and family, the reason for deportation and their current status in the U.S. or elsewhere. Utilize Teacher Handout A: Supplemental Materials: Activity 2 References to direct students to information resources.

  9. When all groups have finished their research, have each group share the case they profiled. On the board or overhead, write “Just Treatment” or “Unjust Treatment.” As each group shares his/her case, have students listen to the facts and by show of hands, vote on whether or not this person was treated justly. For cases with a mixed reaction, conduct further discussion/debate of the reasons why.

  10. Go back to the What’s Your Opinion activity and ask students to review their initial answers. Encourage them to place marks or make notes next to statements that they no longer agree with after watching the film clips and completing their research. Facilitate a short discussion about what caused students to change their minds about each statement.

  11. Direct students to take their Story Charts home and share with a family member or other adult the stories of the two men profiled in the film. (Students may view the Sentenced Home film modules with family or friends via the website if they have access to the Internet.) Students can also share what they have learned about changes to immigration law and enforcement that results in the threat of deportation. The student should then ask the family member or other adult to discuss his/her opinions related to the deportation laws and to write a short response on the bottom of the Story Chart sheet.

  12. When students return to class, they should share the responses from their family members/other adults in a group discussion. Make observations about how opinions varied among the family members/other adults and discuss possible reasons for these variances.

  1. Direct students to create a project that raises awareness about the laws regarding immigrants and crime. Some students will support the current laws, others will want to see them changed in some way. Students can share these opinions by creating brochures, signs, or billboards, writing original songs, speeches or poems, or by sending letters to their Congressional representatives or the local newspaper in support of whatever opinion they have related to the current laws surrounding immigrants and crime. Provide students with classroom time to share their work in small groups.

  2. Conduct research about other controversial cases related to crime and punishment including minors tried as adults, terrorism suspects’ access to due process, three strikes laws and so on. Have students present their findings using a multimedia presentation, a series of news stories, or by reenacting the judicial process so that others can learn about the specific cases and form opinions about whether or not justice was truly served in each case.

  • Film module:
    Sentenced Home: Facing Deportation and the History of the Khmer Refugee
  • Film module:
    Sentenced Home: Gangs and Choices
  • Film module:
    Sentenced Home: Crime, Punishment and Life in Cambodia
Download lesson materials