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Continuity and Change: Immigration in the United States

90 min
  • Students will be able to identify the historical attitudes toward immigration in the United States.
  • Students will identify the relationship between political rhetoric and immigration law.

  • Handout A: The Modern Immigration Debate
    • Document 1: President Donald Trump, address to the nation on immigration, January 8, 2019
    • Document 2: Response to the president’s address on immigration, January 8, 2019, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
  • Handout B: History of American Political Rhetoric and Immigration Law Reform
    • Part 1: The Founding Era
      • Document 1: President George Washington, letter to Vice President John Adams, November 15, 1794
      • Document 2: President Thomas Jefferson, annual report to Congress, December 8, 1801
      • Document 3: Naturalization Act of 1795
    • Part 2: Resistance to Immigration, late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
      • Document 4: Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882
      • Document 5: President Grover Cleveland, speech, October 1, 1888
      • Document 6: A History of the American People, vol. 5, by Woodrow Wilson, 1902
      • Document 7: Emergency Quota Act of 1921
    • Part 3: Immigration in the late twentieth century and beyond
      • Document 8: Summary of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) or the Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986
      • Document 9: Summary of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2011 (or DREAM Act) by the Congressional Research Service, proposed in the Senate on May 11, 2011

Students should have access to internet-connected devices so they may explore the documents provided in the handouts, as well as the full-text versions, as necessary.

This lesson should be presented after the historical events of 9/11 and the U.S. response have been taught. This lesson is designed to interpret the larger constitutional questions posed by that response.

  1. Students will read the contemporary readings on the immigration debate in Handout A.
  2. Students will answer the analysis questions from the readings.
  3. The teacher will lead a brief class discussion that frames the debate about the nature of immigration in the United States.

Students examine some readings from the history of immigration rhetoric and reform on Handout B.Students will answer the analysis questions that accompany the readings on Handout B.

Students will write a short reflection essay on how the political rhetoric of the time influenced the various waves of immigration reform. Their essay must cite at least three immigration laws and at least one primary source related to each of the laws they choose.

Students will consider the historical record of immigration changes in the United States and reflect on the current challenges of immigration reform. Considering there has not been major reform in more than 30 years, they will speculate on what might be achievable today. In whatever product they choose, they should make at least two references to the documents that were read in this lesson. They will create one of the following products:

  1. a draft bill of a law that would be the next step in U.S. immigration reform
  2. a speech that could be delivered by a member of Congress in support of taking action (one way or another) on immigration policy
  3. a political cartoon that makes the case for the need of immigration reform