Immigration Policy and Stories Syllabus honr 218p course Description: Immigration in America: Policy Choices and Personal Stories

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Immigration Policy and Stories Syllabus HONR 218P

Course Description: Immigration in America: Policy Choices and Personal Stories

In 1751 Benjamin Franklin ranted and raved against German immigrants: “"Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.” Still today, despite the welcoming image of the Statue of Liberty, America remains deeply ambivalent and divided about the pros and cons of immigration.

This interdisciplinary course will consider public policy as well as examine fiction and film that convey the lived experience of twentieth and twenty-first century immigrants.

  • Our discussion of immigration policy will consider two main topics: immigration control and integration of immigrants. We begin with a threshold question about the rationale and morality of migration control: why do we have borders? After reviewing the history of U.S. immigration and the current system of visa allocation, we will discuss current policy issues. These include the tenuous status of undocumented workers; the challenge of responding to the recent wave of unaccompanied child migrants; and the criteria for extending asylum to political refugees and sex abuse victims. We next examine immigration reform, focusing on President Obama’s executive orders proposal deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) and for parents of citizens and lawful permanent residents (DAPA).

  • Our consideration of the integration topic begins with a discussion of theories of assimilation. We consider states’ proposals for tuition reform for “Dreamers” and the controversy over bilingual education. We also explore the economic impact of immigration, including effects on welfare programs, employment, and the GDP. We examine the voting patterns of various ethnic groups and in particular the ever increasing electoral clout of the Latino population.

Given the rich heterogeneity of our immigrant population, these stories convey a great variety of experience: determination to undertake difficult journeys; disappointment about barriers to entry; loneliness and confusion upon arrival; ambivalence about assimilation; anxieties associated with separation from homeland and family; economic and occupational challenges; response to racism and prejudice; identity (re)formation and hybridity.

  • Our sampling of fiction, film, photos, and narratives will include works from Latino, Asian-American, Middle Eastern, and African perspectives. The experiences of these more recent groups differ in material ways from that of the early twentieth century European immigrant. How do race and prejudice affect our newest immigrants’ experience of becoming American?

  • A premise of this course is that examining immigrants’ stories helps illuminate the real impact of public policy decisions on individual immigrant lives. Stories and film will be tied to our policy discussions so we can see how decisions on immigration control and hostility to immigrants affect their political, social, and economic integration in America.

Course goals:

At the end of the course the student will

  • Understand the history of U.S. immigration, both the idealist myth and the harsh reality, often stained by nativism and racism

  • Understand the current regime of US visa control based on employment categories and family ties

  • Be able to articulate a pro and con on leading policy issues including treatment of undocumented aliens; the Obama reform package; proposals to increase high-tech visas, and Dream Act tuition reform. The objective is not to reach a consensus but to understand the arguments and to be able to offer an informed critique

  • Be able to articulate the evolution of assimilation theory and take a position on its (in)applicability to 21st century immigration

  • Acquire familiarity with relevant research organizations, advocacy groups, web sites, and library data bases

  • Appreciate how the immigrant experience has enriched postwar American fiction and film

  • Through literary and visual narratives, gain an appreciation of the extent to which the immigrant experience, while often sharing common elements, reflects the origins and perspective of specific migrant populations

Readings and Topics for Class Discussion

Immigration Control

Class 1. Jan 28 Explaining Migration Control: Why Do We Have Borders?

Read: Michael Walzer, “Membership”; Kevin Johnson, “Open Borders?”; Alexander Godin, “My Dead Brother Comes to America”; Anne Fadiman, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down”

In class: “Island of Hope, Island of Tears”; Godfather Part 2 (arrival at Ellis and episode with Sen. Geary) film clips

Class 2. Feb 4 History of Immigration in the US
Read: Walter Ewing, “Opportunity and Exclusion: History of US Immigration Policy”; Frank Norris, “The Third Circle”; Sui Sin Far, “Land of the Free”; “Holocaust and Jewish Refugees”; Lauren Kessler, “Stubborn Twig” (Japanese Internment)

In class: “Paper Sons: Chinese American Illegal Immigrants”; “Japanese Internment During WW2”; “Forgotten Voices: Story of the Bracero Program”; CBS, “1960-Harverst of Shame” film clips

Class 3. Feb 11 Current Immigration Regime; Post 9/11 Tensions

Read: American Immigration Council, “How U.S. Immigration System Works Fact Sheet”; Michelle Mittelstadt et al., “Through the Prism of National Security: Major Immigration Policy and Program Changes in the Decade Since 9/11”; Mark Krikorian (CIS), “Safety in (Lower) Numbers”; Joseph Geha, “Alone and All Together”; Mohja Kahf, “The Spiced Chicken Queen of Mickaweaquah, Iowa”

In class: CBS, “End of NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program Applauded”; poetry reading on YouTube by Suheir Hammad: First Writing Since 9/11; other Arab-American poetry

Class 4. Feb 18 Refugee and Asylum Policies

Read: Doris Messner, “Refugee Act of 1980”; Andrew Shacknove, “Who is a Refugee?” ; Peter Singer and Renata Singer, “Ethics of Refugee Policy”; SF Gate, “Sex Slave Diary”; Chimamanda Adichie, “American Embassy”; Bernard Malamud’s “German Refugee”; George Saunders’s “Semplica Girls”

In class: WellFounded Fear film clip

Feb. 25 Short Essay Due

Class 5. Feb 25 Undocumented Immigrants

Read: Annette Berhardt et al, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers”; Texas Law Help ProCon.Org, “Employment Rights of Undocumented Workers”; CFR Backgrounder, “Child Migrant Influx”; Sarah Stillman, “Where are the Children? For Extortionists, Undocumented Migrants Have Become a Big Business”; “Deportation-Common Grounds for Removal”; Post, “Obama Administration Scales Back Deportation in Policy Shift”

In Class: “Which Way Home?” BBC, “Inside America’s $2bn Detention Industry” film clips

March 3 Deadline for Sign Up for Film Powerpoint Topics

Class 6. March 3 Reform Proposals; Immigrant Ambition

Obama Proposals, Executive Actions on Immigration 2014; American Immigration Council summary of Obama Reform; Orrin Hatch, “High Skilled Immigration bill”; Jerry Moran, “StartUp Act Entrepreneur Visa Proposal”; Beryl Benderly, “HiTech Worker Visa Proposal Opposition to I-Squared Immigration”; Amy Tan, “Two Kinds”; Malamud, “First Seven Years”

In class: Tan Le, “My Immigration Story” Ted Talk; God Forgot about Us: The Lost Boys of Sudan film clip

Immigration Integration:

Class 7. March 10 Assimilation; Reinventing the Melting Pot; Color Tensions

Read: Susan Brown and Frank Bean, “Assimilation Models, Old and New”; Pew Research, “African Immigrants in the United States”; Jhumpa Lahir’s “Mrs. Sen” and “Hell-Heaven”; Adichie, “The Thing Around Your Neck”; Elizabeth Nunez, “Beyond the Limbo Silence”; Diana Abu-Jaber’s “My Elizabeth”

In class: Mississippi Masala film clips


Class 8. March 24 Linguistic Integration

Read: Jack Citrin et al., “Testing Huntington: Is Hispanic Immigration a Threat to National Identity?”; Migration Policy Institute, “Pigments of our Imagination: Racialization of the Hispanic Latino Category”; Pew, “Hispanic Statistical Profile”; Esmeralda Santiago, “When I was Puerto Rican”; Sandra Cisneros, House on Mango Street-selected stories; Lan Samantha Chang, “The Unforgetting”

In class: CNN, “El Cenizo: The Texas Town That Speaks Only Spanish” Voice of America, “US Schools Try New Bilingual Education Method” film clips

In class: McFarland USA film clips

Class 9 March 31 Student Presentations of Immigration Film Powerpoints (10)

Read: Nancy Kim’s Chinhominey’s Secret (first half)

Class 10 April 7 Student Presentations of Film Powerpoints (10)

Read: Chinhominey’s Secret (second half)

Class 11 April 14 The Lived Experience of Immigrants

Read: Adichie’s “New Husband” and “Imitation”; Laila Halaby’s “Fire and Sand”

In class: Discussion of Chinhominey’s Secret; The Namesake film clips

Class 12 April 21 Economic Issues and Immigrant Voting

Read: Alan Greenspan, testimony on economic impact of immigration; Stephen Camorata (CIS), “Immigrant Entry and Native Exit”; Manhattan Project, “Economic Benefits Of Immigration”; Camorata, “Welfare Use by Immigrant Households with Children”; Cato, “Welfare Use by Immigrants; Pew Research, “Voting Rates of Latinos”; Philip Wolgin and Ann Garcia. “Immigration is Changing the American Political Landscape”; Brookings, “2014 Midterms: Patterns and Paradoxes in Voting among Asian Americans”

In class: Democracy Now, “Domestic Workers Win Bill of Rights in New York” (8 min); FSRN, “Labor Victories in SF Highlight Wage Theft Culture": Community and Labor Activists Fight Wage Theft”; Welcome to Shelbyville film clips

Class 13 April 28 Student Presentations of Final Projects

Class 14 May 5 Student Presentations of Final Projects

Texts for Purchase

Nancy Kim, Chinhominey’s Secret, Bridgeworks 2001 ISBN-13: 978-1882593491


Students are asked to prepare (a) one short essay of four pages each (double spaced) based on a personal narrative or a work of a published short story; (b)  one ten minute oral presentation on film for their mid term;  (c) a final project consisting of a power point on an immigration topic/problem area OR original fiction (approximately 10 pages) which will be due end of the term. For more information about assignments see Course Requirements Guide

Office Hours Office Hours

Before and after class or please arrange an appointment by email:,

Academic Integrity & the Honors College

The University is an academic community. Its fundamental purpose is the pursuit of knowledge. Like all other communities, the University can function properly only if its members adhere to clearly established goals and values. Essential to the fundamental purpose of the University is the commitment to the principles of truth and academic honesty.  Accordingly, the Code of Academic Integrity is designed to ensure that the principle of academic honesty is upheld.  While all members of the University share this responsibility, The Code of Academic Integrity is designed so that special responsibility for upholding the principle of academic honesty lies with the students.

 All University of Maryland students are asked to write and sign the following Honor Pledge to all submitted assignments and exams:

I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this assignment/examination. 

The University of Maryland honor system is fully described in the Code of Academic Integrity. Please read: The Code is administered by an all-student Honor Council.  The student Honor Council office is located in room 2118 Mitchell Building and can be reached at 301-314-8204.

 The Honors College works to enrich its community life by promoting an atmosphere of honesty, trust, and mutual responsibility. In the event that a Honors College student is found responsible for a violation of the Code of Academic Integrity by the Student Honor Council, he or she will be dismissed from the Honors College for the semester in which the violation took place and for all subsequent semesters in which the student is enrolled as an undergraduate at Maryland.

Course Evaluation

Your feedback in the evaluation of courses through CourseEvalUM  is confidential and important to the improvement of teaching and learning at the University as well as to  the tenure and promotion process. CourseEvalUM will be open for you to complete your evaluations for spring semester courses.  You can go directly to the website ( to complete your evaluations.  By completing all of your evaluations each semester, you will be able to access the summary reports for thousands of courses online at Testudo.


Grades will be determined as follows:  20% first essay, 20% first oral presentation, 40% final powerpoint, 20% participation and course blog postings. Students are expected to attend class regularly and to actively participate in class. Students will also occasionally contribute informal thoughts, newspaper items, etc. to a course blog (the discussion board on ELMS). Through blog postings, you can pose questions for class discussion, follow upon points raised in class, and bring to the attention of the class stories, news clips, and movies related to immigration.

A+ 100 – 97

A 96.9 – 93

A- 92.9 – 90

B+ 89.9 – 87

B 86.9 – 83

B- 82.9 – 80

C+ 79.9 – 77

C 76.9 – 73

C- 72.9 – 70

D+ 69.9 – 67

D 66.9 – 63

D- 62.9 – 60

F Below 60

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