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Immigration to the United States


Two class periods



U.S. History

Wendy Buchberg, instructional technology support specialist for the Corning–Painted Post Area School District, Corning, New York, and Schuyler Chemung Tioga BOCES, Elmira, New York.


Students will understand the following:

1. Immigration to the United States can be a controversial issue.

2. Reading both fiction and nonfiction books about immigration can help us formulate our own opinions.


For this lesson, you will need:

Library books listed below

1. Share with students that since Europeans and then others first started coming to this country many have written fiction and nonfiction about the immigrant experience. Similarly, for a long time now, there has been debate about how many if any immigrants should come into the United States each year. The debate, you should explain, will probably continue. Explain that after an initial class discussion, students will read a book related to immigration, will write a review of the book, and will then hold a follow-up discussion on the topic.

2. Lead a discussion that can include both students born in the United States and students who have immigrated here. You might focus the discussion on the following questions:
- Why have people come to the United States in the past?

- Why do people come to the United States today?

- What are the benefits for immigrants and for the country when people from other lands settle here?

- What complications sometimes develop for immigrants and for the country?

3. Proceed to take an informal poll based on the following questions:

- How many students think that the United States today should allow anyone to immigrate?

- How many students think that the United States today should not allow anyone from another land to move here permanently?

- How many students think that the United States should put a quota, or limit, on how many people come here from other places?

Explain that you and the class will subsequently return to the results of this poll.

4. Give each student an opportunity to select and read one of the titles on the following annotated list or on a similar list prepared by you or your school's librarian or media specialist. If you do not have multiple copies of a title, consider letting a circle of students take turns reading one book to one another.


Ellis Island: Land of Dreams

Ellis Island: Land of Hope

Ellis Island: Land of Promise

by Joan Lowery Nixon

Young adult literature: three novels about immigrant girls from an earlier generation
Journey of the Sparrows

by Fran Leeper Buss

Young adult literature: the story of a teenager fleeing from El Salvador to the United States
Lupita Mañana

by Patricia Beatty

Young adult literature: the story of a thirteen-year-old Mexican girl and her brother, who must sneak into the United States to work
Journey to Topaz

by Yochiko Uchida

All ages: an eleven-year-old Japanese American's experience of interment after Pearl Harbor; based on the author's life
Arguing Immigration: The Debate over the Changing Face of America

Edited by Nicolaus Mills

Essays written for adults: An anthology of wide-ranging opinions on the topic of immigration, including pieces by Toni Morrison and Francis Fukuyama
The Lost Garden

by Laurence Yep

Young adult literature: A book about the Chinese American author's youth in San Francisco
Our Beckoning Borders: Illegal Immigration to America

by Brent Ashabranner

Young adult literature: A survey of illegal immigration, including interviews with immigrants; considered balanced and factual; focuses on the Mexican border

5. As students read the books, make sure they keep a journal, detailing their own attitudes toward immigrants and immigration and noting any changes or complications in their views.

6. Direct students to write, individually or in groups, reviews of the books they read. Have them write according to guidelines you've put together, or ask them to follow one of the outlines below. (Advise them to find information about publication date and critics' opinions on the book jacket or copyright page, in a reference book, or from an online book seller.)for review of a work of fiction


- Title

- Date

- Opinion from one or more published reviews

- Awards or prizes

- Setting

- Time and place

- Appropriateness


- Names and descriptions

- Realism of portrayals

- Summary

- Realism of story line


- Your overall opinion

- Your recommendation, if any, to others

for a nonfiction book

- Title

- Date

- Opinion from one or more published reviews

- Awards or prizes

- Discussion of author's central message

- Evaluation of support author gives for central message

- Your overall opinion

- Your recommendation, if any, to others

7. Return to the earlier class discussion and the poll you conducted. Repoll the class on the following questions:

- How many students think that the United States today should allow anyone to immigrate?

- How many students think that the United States today should not allow anyone from another land to move here permanently?

- How many students think that the United States should put a quota, or limit, on how many people come here from other places?

8. Whether the poll turns out the same as earlier or different, close the lesson with an acknowledgment that citizens and immigrants will continue to debate the issue.


Adaptations for Older Students:

Remove the young adult novels from the reading list, and replace with more demanding works on immigration from your school or community library.Direct your students to Internet sources that contain statements of current U.S. policy on immigration. Have them explore, in particular, http://www.ins.gov/graphics/index.htm. Adapt the poll questions, above, to reflect what students find there. That is, ask whether or not students agree with the policy, and why.

1. What are some valid benchmarks that indicate whether an immigrant has assimilated into American society? Why do these particular benchmarks signify assimilation?
2. Immigrants were presumably more welcome in the United States 100 years ago when there was a wilderness to be populated and a need for cheap labor. What arguments can be made for why immigrants should be welcome in the United States today?
3. Immigration laws became much more restrictive in the 1920s. Evaluate global and national affairs and the economy of that time. Develop a hypothesis about the reasons that Congress believed it was in the national interest to close the door on immigration at that time in history.
4. Another major shift in U.S. immigration law occurred in 1965, when the policy was relaxed to enable many more immigrants to enter the country. Why was it in the national interest then to reverse the previous restrictive immigration policies? What do you think might have precipitated the shift, given the global and national issues of the time?
5. Debate whether immigration to the United States should be considered a right or a privilege.
6. One common argument against immigration is that a government should use its resources to take care of “its own” rather than care for those from other countries. Evaluate the validity of this argument. How much does a democratic government owe “its own”?” What responsibility, if any, does that same government have to other citizens of the world?

You can evaluate your students on their book reviews using the three-point rubric:

- Three points:responds to complete outline; writes strongly cohesive, unified paragraphs; writes prose that is free of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

- Two Points:responds to most of the outline; writes moderately cohesive, unified paragraphs; makes some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

- One Point:responds incompletely to outline; lacks paragraph cohesion and unity; makes many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

New Poems of Liberty
The end of the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads as follows:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Lead a discussion with your students about the nature of this verse (you and they can view the entire text at http://www.endex.com/gf/buildings/liberty/libertyfacts.html).

What do the words mean?

Do they reflect the current immigration policies of the United States?

Do they reflect your students' own ideas about what our national immigration policies should be?

After the discussion, ask your students to imagine that they have been commissioned to write a new poetic inscription for the Statue of Liberty.

What ideas would their poems contain?

What images and phrases would they use?

When their poems are complete, ask for volunteers to share their work with the class. Then discuss the poems' ideas and images.

Panel Discussion of Local Immigrants

Working with other teachers, put together a panel discussion of new and old immigrants to your school. If you do not have an immigrant population in your school, reach out to the larger community, inviting both newcomers and long-time residents to visit your school. Prep all panelists so that they will each talk for a few minutes on the experience of immigrating to the United States—the positives and the negatives. Allow panelists to question one another. Conclude the session by reading the panelists questions that you have previously collected from students and screened.

Immigration: Opposing Viewpoints

Tamara L. Roleff, ed. Greenhaven Press, 1998.

Debate on the issue of immigration is encouraged from this resource, which touches on the history of immigration, immigration policy, and various published opinions. This resource provides an index, a list of organizations to contact, and further discussion questions.
Immigration Policy

Scott Barbour, ed. Greenhaven Press, 1995.

More debate on the issues surrounding immigration. Do immigrants make America strong or threaten its economy? Many questions like this encourage students to research the issues and come up with their own views on immigration.

Immigration and Naturalization Service History, Genealogy, and Education

This is a good starting point for locating data related to immigration and understanding the history of the immigration and naturalization service.

Center for Immigration Studies

The Center for Immigration Studies conducts research and provides policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States.

Migration Dialogue

Migration Dialogue promotes informed discussion of the issues associated with international migration

Federation for American Immigration Reform

The Federation for American Immigration Reform takes the position that “the unforeseen mass immigration that has occurred over the last 30 years should not continue.”

The National Immigration Forum

The National Immigration Forum “advocates and builds public support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees and that are fair and supportive to newcomers in our country.”

Close Up Foundation Special Topic Page: Immigration

This site recognizes the different positions on immigration and includes an overview of U.S. immigration policy, a summary of current U.S. immigration law, statistics, a timeline and a selection of other links.



To absorb into the culture or mores of a population or group.


The desire to learn English is one indication that an immigrant wants to assimilate into mainstream American society.


To leave one's place of residence or country to live elsewhere.


After 14 years in refugee camps, the Cambodian family was finally able to emigrate from Southeast Asia.


A member of a mountain-dwelling people inhabiting southeastern China and the northern parts of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.


A large community of Hmong from Cambodia has settled successfully in Minnesota.


The underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization).


Supporters of less restricted immigration claim that not much infrastructure is necessary to help immigrants adjust to life in the United States.


Made mandatory.


American laws passed in 1962 mandated restrictions on immigration.


The principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative.


California held a referendum to vote on whether certain benefits should be withheld from immigrants.


A person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.


Refugees often spend a long time in camps before they can enter America.


The act or process of establishing truth, accuracy, or reality.


Some say a heightened verification system is needed to weed out illegal aliens and employers who exploit them.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:


Understands the meaning of citizenship in the United States and knows the requirements for citizenship and naturalization.

Knows the criteria used for admission to citizenship in the United States, such as five years of residence in the United States; ability to read, write, and speak English; proof of good moral character; knowledge of the history of the United States; and knowledge of and support for the values and principles of American constitutional government.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:


Understands issues regarding personal, political, and economic rights.

Understands the argument that economic responsibilities follow from economic rights.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

U.S. history


Understands developments in foreign policy and domestic politics between the Nixon and Clinton presidencies.


Understands key domestic issues of the post-Nixon years (e.g., President Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon; the successes and failures of the Carter administration).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

U.S. history


Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.

Understands changes in the workplace and the economy in contemporary America (e.g., the effects of a sharp increase in labor force participation of women and new immigrants; the shift of the labor force from manufacturing to service industries).

Understands demographic shifts and the influences on recent immigration patterns (e.g., the flow from cities to suburbs, reasons for internal migrations from the “Rustbelt” to the “Sunbelt” and their impact on politics; implications of the shifting age structure of the population).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

U.S. history


Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.


Understands challenges immigrants faced in society in the late 19th century (e.g., experiences of new immigrants from 1870 to 1900; reasons for hostility toward the new immigrants; restrictive measures against immigrants; the tension between American ideals and reality).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

U.S. history


Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.


Understands how recent immigration and migration patterns impacted social and political issues (e.g., major issues that affect immigrants and resulting conflicts; changes in the size and composition of the traditional American family; demographic and residential mobility since 1970).


Copyright 2001 Discovery.com.

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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