Immigration Unit

This week, we examine the topic of ethics, justice and rights by focusing on the immigration debate in the United States. We will do this by researching immigration statistics, learning about the history of immigrants in the US, debating the question of illegal immigration, and finding out more about ourselves and our cultural identity in the process.  To do this, we will ask questions about what we believe is right and wrong (ethics), how laws are applied fairly and equitably (justice), and what protection individuals have against their government (rights).

Students have been issued their packets, containing history, evidence, questions, facts & figures, and stories concerning immigration.  We’re going to explore two documentaries – Farmingville and The New Americans – to understand the human and legal dimension behind legal and illegal immigration.  At the end of this unit, students will write a reflection essay on their experiences.  Students are also keeping journals from images, poetry, stories and more concerning immigration.  Depending on time, we may even have a mock trial or a debate (from the Choices Program at Brown University).  It’s a powerful learning experience, but one I look forward to sharing with my students.

Unit Objectives:

  • Students will analyze how justice and injustice is defined and applied to political, economic and social circumstances.
  • Students will investigate the perspectives of diverse ethnic and cultural groups concerning ethics, justice and rights.
  • Students will analyze relationships, patterns and lessons relating to ethics, justice and rights from American and World History.
  • Students will question how terms related to ethics, justice and rights are socially constructed, how they adapt to changing circumstances and how they influence behavior, values and identity.
  • Students will conduct research, examine choices, make decisions and take action on important issues related to ethics, justice and rights.
  • Students will debate opposing positions on the basis (whether an individual has a justified claim or protection) and content (what the rights of an individual actually are) of important political rights in current events.
  • Students will evaluate the cultural consequences of ethical values and choices in American and world history.

Background: The United States is in the midst of its fourth and largest wave of immigration. With approximately one million new immigrants entering the country each year, more than ten percent of Americans are foreign-born.  Most of today’s newcomers are Latino in origin, from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Others come from many different countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. While the majority settle in traditional gateway cities with large immigrant communities and a history of employing foreign workers, a growing number are moving into smaller metropolitan areas, rural towns and the suburbs of long-established gateways.

Regardless of their numbers, ethnic origin, or destination, immigrants often arrive at America’s front door to find the welcome mat missing. The National Immigration Forum reports that, while 50% of native-born Americans think immigration levels are acceptable, 40% think they should decrease and 10% think immigration should stop altogether.  These well-worn sentiments have forged a long trail of anti-immigrant policies and legislation that spans the four hundred years of America’s history.  Even when newcomers are welcome, their presence can challenge the communities where they settle with extra demands on schools, housing, law enforcement and social services. Local governments, particularly in the newer destinations, often lack the basic institutional tools and experience to deal with the infrastructure needs created by the new population, and nongovernmental organizations are either overburdened or simply nonexistent.

Immigrants face challenges as well, struggling to find housing, jobs and a sense of community. In suburban and rural settlement areas, the receiving immigrant populations are small or non-existent and offer few resources for the newcomers. In places such as Farmingville, New York, working conditions in construction, landscaping and other low-skill service jobs are often poor.  To make matters worse, non-English-speaking laborers, are often the focus of animosity and resentment from anti-immigrant factions, who believe they weaken the “social fabric” of American communities and threaten American jobs. In spite of this, and the difficulties encountered by immigrants and the communities where they live and work, both parties benefit in many ways as well.

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