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Teaching with the News

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

This lesson is excerpted from the full-length Choices curriculum, U.S. Immigration Policy in an Unsettled World. It is an example of the hallmark Options Role Play included in all Choices curriculum units, particularly those in our Current Issues Series. While this online lesson can stand alone, the role play is most productive when used within the full curriculum, where students gain more historical context and content knowledge on the topic. More information and resources for using Options Role Play lessons in your classroom are available at Tools for the Options Role Play.


In this lesson students will:


Videos: Immigration in the United States

Options for U.S. Immigration Policy

Options: Graphic Organizer

Focusing Your Thoughts

Your Own Option


Note: Teaching about immigration may require special sensitivity. Debates might be especially intense for students with a personal connection to the issue. Teachers may want to consult Choices’ Guidelines for Deliberation to help promote careful consideration of the topic.

In The Classroom

1. Introducing the Topic

Explain to students that they will be viewing videos that will introduce the topic of immigration and immigration policy in the United States. Distribute Videos: Immigration in the United States and instruct students to fill it in as they watch the following videos. (Alternatively, this activity could be done as homework prior to the lesson.)

Video 1: Why has the United States been a destination for immigrants? [Robert Lee - 1:08]

Video 2: What has been the response toward immigrants arriving in the United States? [Robert Lee - 1:09]

Video 3: How have immigrant groups organized themselves politically and socially in the United States? [Robert Lee - 1:49]

Review the handout with the class, inviting students to share their answers. Ask them to identify some of the key issues that make immigration an important and controversial subject. (You may wish to prompt students to identify issues relating to immigrant experiences and the opinions of U.S. citizens about immigration.) Explain that during Barack Obama’s presidency there have been some new changes to immigration policy. Like all things related to immigration, these have been very controversial. Show the class the short video from the Wall Street Journal, Immigration: Comparing Reagan and Obama, and ask them to share their responses to it. What policies has President Obama’s administration had on immigration, according to the video? What might people with different views on immigration (such as those explained by Robert Lee in his videos) think about these policies?

2. Exploring Contrasting Policy Options

Explain to the class that they will be exploring different options for immigration policy in a role play. Break up your class into five groups and distribute Options for U.S. Immigration Policy and Options: Graphic Organizer. Assign four of the groups a policy option. Assign the remaining group the role of senators in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (If you have a large class, you may want to make a sixth group of foreign representatives. If you have a small class, you could invite parents and faculty to be the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.)

Option Groups: Each group will review its assigned option and develop a three-to-five minute presentation to give to the class. The presentation should make the best possible case for the option. Encourage students to consider the following questions as they prepare:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: This group will review each of the options and prepare clarifying questions to ask of the option groups during or after the presentations. Each student should come up with at least two questions for each option.

Foreign Representatives: If your class is large, you may want to have some students be representatives from other countries. You should assign each student a country and tell them to research that country’s position on this issue. These students can present their countries’ views on the options for U.S. immigration policy after the presentations.

Give students about fifteen minutes to prepare their presentations and questions. Tell option groups to fill in their option’s section of Options: Graphic Organizer as they prepare. Then organize the room so that the option groups face a row of desks reserved for the Committee on Foreign Relations. Explain that the simulation will begin with short presentations by each option group. Encourage students to speak clearly and convincingly. You may wish to have the senators ask questions after each presentation or save all the questions for the end. Throughout the presentations, all students should fill out Options: Graphic Organizer completely.

3. Students Express Their Views

After the simulation, ask students what they think about the different options. What aspects of the different options do students support? What policies are students concerned about? Can students identify some of the difficult trade-offs that policy makers must make in dealing with this issue? What values underlie each option? What do students think should be the primary aim of U.S. policy on immigration? What policies would achieve this aim?

How would each of these options affect the economic interests of the United States? society and culture in the United States? the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world? How would each option affect U.S. citizens? immigrants living in the United States? people who would like to immigrate to the United States?

Extra Challenges

  1. Invite students to create their own options for U.S. policy on immigration, based on personally held values and beliefs. They should complete Focusing Your Thoughts and Your Own Option. You could begin the next class with a group discussion about students' own options.
  2. Encourage students to interview a friend, family member, or neighbor who has immigrated (or whose family immigrated) to the United States about their experiences. Alternatively, students could interview representatives from organizations that assist and defend immigrants. It is important for teachers to explain to students that this can be a sensitive topic for many people, and to advise them on how to interview in a respectful and professional way.

Additional Resources

CFR Backgrounder—The U.S. Immigration Debate

Pew Research Center—Immigration

Hstry—A History of Immigration in the USA

The White House—Fixing the System

Human Rights Watch—Unfair Immigration Policies

The New York Times Magazine—My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

The Washington Post—In a crowded immigration court, seven minutes to decide a family’s future

BBC—Migration: Are more people on the move than ever before?

The Washington Post—Fewer immigrants are entering the U.S. illegally, and that’s changed the border security debate

The Federation for American Immigration Reform—Organization homepage

Wall Street Journal—President Obama’s Immigration ‘Hodgepodge’