Understanding Immigration Issues

From Sentenced Home collection, lesson plan 4 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 focuses on the history of immigration in the U.S., current immigration reform issues and legislation as students work together to formulate plans for changing immigration laws in the U.S.


Students will:

  • Participate in a number of class discussions and debates related to former and current immigration laws and policies
  • Utilize critical reading and viewing skills to learn about immigration laws, proposed legislation and controversies surrounding immigration reform
  • Analyze the positive and negative effects of former and current immigration laws and policies
  • Conduct research about former and current immigration laws and policies and use this information to create reports to be used as part of an oral presentation
  • Participate in a classroom simulation of a Commission Hearing regarding making reforms to immigration laws
  • Compose a written response to questions related to their opinions regarding changes that should be made to immigration laws in the U.S.


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussion, critical reading and viewing, group work, research, summarizing information.


  • 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)
  • access to Internet and library resources
  • Student Handouts D & E

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.

  1. Previewing activity: Distribute Student Handout D: Timeline of U.S. Immigration Policy and Events and review as a group. Discuss briefly the positive and negative results of various events and policy changes in terms of how they affected U.S. citizens as well as immigrants.

  2. Beginning with the entries for 1996 and continuing to the end of the timeline, discuss how immigration policy has changed as a result of attacks on the U.S. Look at how this has affected immigrants and U.S. citizens by reading “U.S. Immigration Policy” or using additional resources.

  3. Explain to students that now that they are familiar with the basics of U.S. immigration, they will meet some of the people being affected by the current laws. Using Film Modules 1, 2 and 3, introduce students to Many and Kim and allow them to see how policy changes in immigration laws are changing people’s lives.

  4. After viewing is completed, facilitate a class discussion about what students have seen using the quotes from Teacher Handout A: Supplemental Materials in the Activity 4 section and questions such as:

    • How are Many and Kim being affected by the changes that were made to U.S. immigration laws back in 1996?
    • Do you agree with these changes? Why?
    • Why do you think the government felt it had to enforce these laws beginning after 9/11?
    • Do you think the enforcement of these laws makes U.S. citizens safer? Why?

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

  5. Divide students into small groups. Using Student Handout D: Timeline of U.S. Immigration Policy and Events, assign each group a time period to review (perhaps a decade). Suggested research links can be found at http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/sentencedhome/more.html. Instruct groups to refer to the section of the time line that reports on their assigned years and be prepared to report on the following:

    • Key policies established during that timeframe
    • What the policies were addressing and why
    • The policy’s goal and results
    • What was occurring internationally and nationally during noted dates that might have influenced the policy
    • The actual or likely impact on immigrants and the United States
  6. Have each group report back to the class. Synthesize and chart each group’s findings under headings reflecting their respective time periods. After the presentations, have the class review the synthesized findings to draw conclusions about what typically frames immigration policy and the similarities and differences among the varied legislation.

  7. Point out to students that many of the issues presented in their timeline analysis are at the heart of immigration policy, which raises debates about how immigrants are viewed and treated. It is an ongoing debate, one that has heated up in light of the terrorist acts on September 11, 2001.

  8. Have students select an existing or proposed immigration policy to research in small groups. Students should note the names and purpose of the policies and on what basis they evolved. Have them work in small groups to research the pro and con arguments associated with each or one of the policies. The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center webpage, may be helpful—along with other websites noted in the “How to Use This Film and Guide” section.

  9. Tell students they will have an opportunity to learn more about immigration policy and the ways these policies are enacted by participating in a mock Congressional hearing. Assign five students the roles of Commission members. Divide the remainder of the class equally into smaller groups of lobbyists, immigrants and other groups/individuals students deem necessary for the activity. The pro and con perspectives should be balanced among the groups.

  10. Distribute Student Handout E: Commission Hearing Guidelines, and review with the class. Presenters may focus on a particular proposed policy and/or address current immigration policy overall, making sure to incorporate reference to recommended laws.

  11. Conduct the Commission Hearing. After the hearing is completed, invite students to reflect on what they have learned, and revisit their initial perceptions discussed in Steps 1-4 by answering the following questions as a written response activity.

    • What are their overall thoughts now regarding immigration policy?
    • How do they feel it should be structured?
  1. Research how other industrialized countries throughout the world handle immigration issues. Place students in pairs or small groups and have each group select a different country to research. Each group could write a one-page summary describing the immigration laws of the country they selected. They could then use a graphic organizer such as a Venn diagram to illustrate the similarities and differences between how this country and the U.S. handle immigration issues. Posters could be hung around the classroom after each group presents its findings about foreign immigration laws and policies.
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