How do you teach about immigration issues?

Millions of people, around the world, have chosen – or been forced – to leave the nation where they were born. Immigration has become more popular – partly due to modern technologies like planes, trains, and cars – than ever before in human history.

Immigration remains a vital, if controversial, topic. Why do people immigrant? How have immigrants contributed to your country? How important is the distinction between legal and illegal? Do wealthy nations have an obligation to open their doors to refugees? What qualifies someone as a refugee? Should nations chose their immigrants? If so, what criteria should nations use? How have immigration laws changed over time in your country? What, by the way, do you consider “your” country? Do you think someone can be a loyal citizen to more than one country? How?

As today’s federal court decision in Arizona shows, the debate over illegal immigration remains alive, often hot, and frequently ugly in the United States. On one hand, the United States celebrates the Statue of Liberty as a national symbol and accepts more legal immigrants than any other nation on the earth. On the other hand, the continuing economic crisis and high unemployment rates have led to widespread resentment about the large number of illegal immigrants. President Obama has called for a civil, open, and honest debate as the United States debates its immigration policies. Many other nations are holding similar debates.

Teaching Tolerance, an exceptional educational non-profit that provides many free resources to American teachers, is asking a simple question this week. How do you teach about immigration issues? Join the discussion here.

Context, as ever, remains crucial. Teaching about immigration issues is far easier in some contexts – such as an intensive English language program – than in other contexts. Teaching the history of American immigration in an EL/Civics class is far easier than discussing current events in my advanced adult ESL classes in Santa Monica. Why? Everyone in the EL/Civics class was pursuing citizenship, and held legal status. On the other hand, the advanced ESL class – on the same campus – was clearly divided between refugees, visa lottery winners, other legal immigrants, and many undocumented/illegal immigrants. With limited language skills and great passion, the topic was too controversial to rationally discuss.

Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and many other English-speaking nations continue to attract immigrants and refugees from around the world. As English teachers, we know the faces and stories behind the statistics. We also know the crucial role that English skills play in creating successful immigration policies. But do we teach about immigration? And, if so, how?

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5 comments

  1. degree university chicago

    Immigration is quite a big issue as of today. But it is not the obligation of wealthy nation to accept immigrants. I agree that they still have to set their standards as well. Currently, I can’t understand the reason why people need to leave their own country. Maybe aside from poverty, they still have their own reasons. In any case, orienting people about immigration issues seem easy but a bit complicated in its very own sense that is why we need certified educators to discuss this matter.

  2. Gurmender Singh

    This blog has a special virtue of learning English. I liked it and enjoyed. There are many important things in this blog.

  3. Teaching about immigration can be a delicate matter. People can feel very differently about the topic, particularly depending on what side they’re standing.

    It’s best to first listen to the issues and then decide upon a course of action for teaching. That way you get a full range of viewpoints before planning the curriculum. Just my thought.

  4. Immigration is certainly “a big issue” these days. As you note, poverty remains a major reason for people seeking a new homeland – and wealthier nations are under no obligation to take in the billions of desperately poor.

    Yet the United States, which accepts more legal immigrants than all of Western Europe and Japan combined has a long history of accepting refugees. Wars, dictatorships, and famines have pushed millions to flee their native countries in search of safer, better lives elsewhere. The Statue of Liberty remains one of America’s strongest symbols of national purpose because we’ve so often provided sanctuary to refugees and provided a new home for immigrants.

    Let’s hope that the Statue of Liberty never becomes the Statue of Bigotry.

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