How do we teach students about this complicated and emotional issue?
Legal and illegal immigration has become a volatile issue in American society. Many communities have not previously had to deal with large groups of immigrants. They now find themselves hosts to new arrivals to America. Students meet the child immigrants or children of immigrants in their schools, neighborhoods, stores, etc. What is the history of American immigration? Take time to explore the Immigration, Ellis Island site. What does it mean for America today? The illegal immigrant population is now over five million people. How do these newcomers feel? This is examined in PBS´ The New Americans
Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children come illegally to America each year. Another million or more are caught each year by the U.S. Border Patrol and turned back. An estimated four million illegal immigrants now live in the United States.
Who are these people who often face great personal danger to illegally enter the country? What hope or desperation drives them? How do they survive once they are here? What problems do they face? What are the prospects for better control of illegal immigration?
1. Have students quickly take out a piece of paper and write down the things they would take with them if they had to leave their home right now. Everything must fit into a backpack. It cannot cost money or electricity to use. It cannot make noise. Discussion: What was most important to them? Why?
2. Discussion: Talk about the meaning of the word "immigrant." Why do people leave their homeland? What did they expect to find in America? Do all immigrants voluntarily come to America? How do they get here? Write: What do you think it is like for immigrants on their trip to America?
3. Construct a Statue of Liberty. This can be done with paper mache around a wire frame. Each class could do it as their own project. Discussion: What does the poem by Emma Lazarus mean to you? Write: Compose a new poem for the statue of liberty that you think should reflect our attitudes towards immigrants.
4. Discussion: How do today’s immigrants differ from those who came before? How did they travel? Why did they leave their homeland? Where did they live when they came to America? Write: Why do think people want to live in America? What do you like best about living in America?
Book for Discussion: How Many Days To America, by Eve Bunting.
Leading young people through a thoughtful examination and discussion of immigration in the United States will enable them to ask and answer questions important to our society.