What priorities should determine U.S. immigration policy?
Second edition. September 2018.

To say that the United States is a country of immigrants is an acknowledgment of history. It is also how many U.S. citizens think about their country: a refuge and a place of opportunity for all. But immigrants have not always been welcomed with open arms. Debates about immigration and immigration policy have been omnipresent throughout U.S. history and continue to the present day. Immigration and the U.S. Policy Debate explores the history of immigration to the United States and current U.S. immigration policy. In doing so, this unit prepares students to articulate their own views on immigration policy.


The readings prepare students to consider the complexities of U.S. immigration policy. Part I reviews the history of immigration to the United States from the colonial era to the early twentieth century. It introduces students to the economic, cultural, and security issues that influenced these flows. Part II examines how the United States’ changing role in the world during the twentieth century affected immigration policy and immigrant experiences. Part III explores the complexities of U.S. immigration in the twenty-first century, preparing students to formulate their own ideas on the future direction of U.S. immigration policy.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Oral Histories of Immigration

Students discuss factors that lead to immigration, conduct an interview, and research experiences and histories of immigration.

Primary Source Analysis: The Dillingham Commission

Students examine the values and beliefs that influenced immigration policy in the early 1900s.

Data Analysis: U.S. Immigration Trends

Students analyze U.S. immigration statistics for the years 1821-2000 and draw conclusions about the events and policies that shaped trends in immigration.

Immigrant Experiences in U.S. History

Using a selection of first person immigrant accounts, students learn about and compare the motivations and challenges involved in the process of immigration.

In this online lesson, students gain an understanding of the current refugee crisis by mapping data and exploring personal accounts of refugees.

Students analyze comics about the experiences of individual Syrian refugees and draw conclusions about what individual experiences reveal about larger political contexts.

Source Analysis and Persuasive Writing

Students write a persuasive essay demonstrating their ability to critically analyze a primary source and take a stance on whether they agree or disagree with the source's author.

Resettlement Challenges and Solutions

Students design and develop ideas for a mobile app that addresses a specific challenge that refugees face in the process of resettlement.

Students use primary sources to compare and contrast Japanese American incarceration in WWII and contemporary migrant detention, and explore how knowledge of history can inspire activism and build solidarity. 

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987.

Camacho, Alicia Schmidt. Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

DeSipio, Louis and Rodolfo O. de la Garza. Immigration in the Twenty-First Century: Making Americans, Remaking America. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2015.

Espiritu, Yen Le. Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2014.

FitzGerald, David Scott and David Cook-Martín. Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Gonzales, Roberto G. Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2015.

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Lee, Robert G and Wanni W. Anderson. Displacements and Diasporas: Asians in the Americas. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Stern, Alexandra Minna. Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2015.

White, Michael J. and Jennifer E. Glick. Achieving Anew: How New Immigrants Do in American Schools, Jobs, and Neighborhoods. New York: Russell Sage, 2009.

Zolberg, Aristide D. A Nation By Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

A U.S government website that offers statistics and information about government policy.
An immigration rights organization that advocates for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees.
Links to articles, statistics, and public opinion polls on the topic of immigration.
Reports, articles, profiles, and graphics discussing groups that espouse hate in the United States—including anti-immigration and Islamophobic groups.
Reports, statistics, photos, videos about the UNHCR and refugee experiences.
Reports and statistics from a refugee advocacy organization.
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