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This lesson was published in March 2006.

U.S. Immigration Policy: What Should We Do?

This is an interactive lesson plan that engages students in consideration of divergent policy alternatives concerning the goals of immigration policy.

The Senate and House of Representatives are considering changes to current immigration law that will fundamentally change the rules on immigration. Debate highlights issues related to border control, undocumented workers, and law enforcement, and raises additional questions about human rights, the economy, the environment, and security. As our elected representatives consider the options for current policy, it is important for Americans to understand these issues within the wider context of our long-term goals for immigration policy.

U.S. Immigration Policy: What should we do? is an online resource that is excerpted from U.S. Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World. This one-week curriculum unit gives students the tools they need to wrestle with the questions involved in U.S. immigration policy.


Policy Options
Four Policy Options have been framed to help students think about divergent policy alternatives, each driven by different underlying values, each with merits and trade-offs. The Options provided have been developed with input from the research staff at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. The Policy Options can be printed for classroom use from the Choices web site.

Guidelines for Deliberation

Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options

Online Ballot: Immigration Policy - What do you think?


In The Classroom

DAY I—Preparation and Presentation of the Options

Break your class up into five groups. Assign four of the groups a Policy Option (one for each group). Assign the remaining group the role of the President and his advisors or of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Options Presenters: Their task will be to review their assigned Option, consider the values that underlie it as well as the tradeoffs involved, and then develop a short presentation to give to the class. This presentation should make the best possible case for this Option.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Their task will be to review each of the Options presented in the material and prepare clarifying questions to ask of the "advocates" of each Option after their presentation. The intent is to make sure that the Options, as they are written, are fully understood prior to deliberation on the merits, risks, and tradeoffs of each.

Foreign Representatives: If your class is large, you may want to assign some students the role of representatives of other nations. They can be asked to present their views on the Options after all of them have been presented.

DAY II—Shared Deliberation and Individual Judgment

With the Options presented and understood, students have a foundation for deliberation on the merits and the tradeoffs of each. Ultimately students will articulate their own perspective on the issue.

Deliberating on the Options: Begin your deliberation by asking students to identify the things they like and the things that concern them about each of the options presented. Encourage students to listen carefully to each other rather than to try to "win" the argument. The intent of deliberative discourse is to see that all perspectives are heard and considered and that all participants have a place at the table. The outcome should involve a more sophisticated understanding on the part of all participating. See Guidelines for Deliberation. You may also find Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options a useful activity.

Articulating Their Own Views: After students have deliberated together on the merits and tradeoffs of the Options presented in this lesson, give all of the students an opportunity to come to terms with their own views on this issue. What should we do? Have them articulate their own considered judgments on the issue by framing their "Option 5" using the format of the Options presented. It may help them to use the questions provided with the Options as an organizing tool.

Online Ballot
Finally, students are encouraged to participate in an online ballot activity focused on this topic. This ballot provides an opportunity for students to express their beliefs and concerns on this issue. A report will be developed and disseminated to elected officials and policymakers. [An additional ballot on the broader question of the U.S. role in the world is also available.]

Let Your Voice Be Heard
Encourage your students to express their views.

  • Contacting Elected Officials
    Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at and their U.S. Senators and Representatives at
  • Writing Locally
    Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper. Or they could write an article for the school or community newspaper

See Supplemental Resources for additional resources on this topic.

Additional Resources from the Choices Program

U.S. Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World
a one-week curriculum unit that examines the historical and current dimensions of an issue that has become a key focus of U.S. policy in the wake of 9.11 and engages students in the current debate about our national identity.

Supplementals Materials for U.S. Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World provides links to additional resources related to this issue

Additional Online Resources

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
a U.S. government website that offers statistics and information about government policy.

National Immigration Forum
an immigrant rights organization that advocates for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees.

Federation for American Immigration Reform
provides numerous statistics and position papers by a group that hopes to reduce U.S. immigration levels.

NPR's Immigration in America
a series that surveys native born Americans and immigrants on their attitudes toward immigration.