Facing Deportation: Two Cambodian Refugees

From Sentenced Home collection, lesson plan 1 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: Sometimes immigration results from conditions in other countries that could force people to leave, perhaps unwillingly or reluctantly. Political tension, war, and/or mistreatment of certain groups of people are among the circumstances that force people to become refugees. In this lesson students will learn about the history of the Khmer people and what brought Cambodian refugees to America. They will also learn about the laws governing these refugees and why some are now facing deportation back to their homeland. Students will study how other countries around the world address refugee issues as part of a research project.


Students will:

  • learn the definition of a refugee and understand the circumstances that cause people to become refugees
  • study the history of the Khmer Rouge and why the Cambodian people fled their country as refugees
  • utilize critical viewing skills to form opinions about the stories presented and the U.S. policy related to refugees
  • conduct research to learn about the refugee policies of other countries throughout the world
  • create podcasts, blogs, web pages, videos, or multimedia presentations that describe refugee policies in other countries and share them with classmates
  • participate in class discussions about refugees and refugee issues


Discussion, viewing and interpreting media, group brainstorming, pair-and-share activities, researching, comparing and contrasting, forming opinions.


  • 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 4 (can be streamed or ordered on DVD)
  • Teacher Handouts A and B, Sentenced Home quotes
  • access to equipment to produce podcasts, blogs, webpages, videos or multimedia presentations

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 10 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.


  1. Write the following questions on the board or overhead. Begin class by asking students to form written answers to these questions. Utilize Teacher Handout A: Supplemental Materials: Activity 1 References and Teacher Handout B: Citizenship and Immigration Terminology to discuss the answers to the following questions as a class.

    • What is a refugee?
    • Why do people become refugees?
  2. Continue by asking students to think about the emotions associated with moving, not only from country to country, but from house to house, state to state, etc. without a choice. Since most students have probably experienced a move and have probably had little choice about it (i.e. parents typically make these decisions), they can relate to some of the difficulties and emotion caused by moving. Conclude the discussion by working as a class to make a list of the push-pull factors that can influence a move, particularly in the case of someone who is a refugee.

  3. Explain to students that in video clips from the film entitled Sentenced Home, students will meet and learn about two young men who came to the U.S. as Cambodian refugees when they were young children. In order to better understand their stories, students will need to have a basic historical understanding of the conflict that forced Cambodians to become refugees. Distribute or read a copy of “The History Place: Genocide in the 20th Century: Pol Pot in Cambodia 1975-1979”.

    After reading, discuss the following:

    • What hardships and threats did the people of Cambodia face?
    • What was the U.S. role and relationship with Cambodia during this period?
  4. Using this background information, work as a class to develop a brief summation of what the lives of these young men and their parents might have been like in terms of their cultural experiences, education and physical and emotional health and record this content on the board or overhead for all students to see.

  5. View Sentenced Home Film Modules 1, 2 and 4.

    Discuss the modules using the quotes provided on Teacher Handout A: Supplemental Materials under the Activity 1 References section and questions such as:

    • How were the Cambodian refugees treated/accepted by members of the communities where they lived?
    • What is the difference between a “Permanent Resident Alien” and a U.S. citizen?
    • What is Many’s opinion about why many Cambodian refugees did not apply for U.S. citizenship?
    • Many’s teacher did not feel enough was done to assist Cambodian refugees. What support services might have assisted Many and his mother?
    • Do you think the U.S. government did enough for the Cambodian refugees? Why?
    • Is it fair for the U.S. government to deport these Cambodian refugees? Why?
    • Do you think Kim and others like him could be considered refugees again as deportees? Why?

    NOTE: The Sentenced Home quotes are referenced in this step and could be distributed to students for use during discussion.

  6. Assign students to work in pairs or small groups to research refugee policies and enforcement in another country. Issues to be explored could include the contributions and challenges of a particular refugee group or ways that immigration policies have changed in recent years. Students should include a map of the region, photos and stories that feature the personal and political sides of refugee issues. Information learned could be presented in the form of podcasts, blogs, web pages, videos, or multimedia presentations. Utilize Teacher Handout A: Supplemental Materials: Activity 1 References to see a list of websites students can use to conduct their research.

  7. Provide each group with time to present their project to the class so that students can see how refugees around the world are treated in various countries.

  8. Facilitate a final discussion or have students address questions such as the following in the form of a written response.

    • Looking at the stories of Many and Kim and others like them, in what ways do they become like refugees again when they are deported back to their “homeland”?
  1. Invite a panel of guest speakers to come into the classroom to address student questions and comments about the enforcement of deportation laws for “criminal aliens.” Include immigrants and refugees, an attorney or legal expert on refugee issues and people who work with organizations and agencies that assist refugees when they arrive in the U.S. Have students prepare questions for the panel in advance and use the expertise of the panel members to learn more about what it is like to be a refugee.

    NOTE: See Teacher Handout C: Guidelines for Convening a Community Forum

  2. Working in small groups, students could generate a list of additional information they would like to learn about Cambodia. This could include history, culture, politics, economics, society or world relations issues. Using the Internet, library resources and expert interviews, students could create a class website featuring what they have learned. Within the website could be blogs, podcasts, videos and other related content.

  3. Provide students with the opportunity to learn more about what it takes for one to become a U.S. citizen by accessing sample questions from the citizenship test. Use this as a springboard for discussion about the challenges faced by those seeking to become U.S. citizens and for students to test their own knowledge about the information that U.S. citizens are supposed to know.

  • Film module:
    Sentenced Home: Facing Deportation and the History of the Khmer Refugee

  • Film module:
    Sentenced Home: Gangs and Choices

  • Film module:
    Sentenced Home: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Download lesson materials