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CNN Presents Classroom: Immigrant Nation, Divided Country

Educator Guide

(CNN Student News) -- Set your VCR to record CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Immigrant Nation, Divided Country when it airs commercial-free on Monday, February 13, 2006, from approximately 4:10-5:00 a.m. on CNN. (A short feature beginning at 4:00 a.m. precedes the show.)

Program Overview

Has the wave of Hispanic immigration spiraled out of control? Are illegal workers stealing jobs and destroying the fabric of American society, or are they energizing the U.S. economy and keeping the American dream alive? Maria Hinojosa, a Mexican-American herself, goes inside the lives of four families on the front lines of the growing debate over illegal immigration.

Grade Levels: 7-12

Subject Areas: Social Studies, World History, Contemporary Issues, Economics, Government


This CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Immigrant Nation, Divided Country and its corresponding discussion questions and activities challenge students to:

  • Identify the characteristics of the new wave of immigration;
  • Analyze the divisive debates over illegal immigration in the U.S.;
  • Assess U.S. policies towards illegal immigration and the challenges facing law enforcement officials.
  • Curriculum Connections

    National Standards for Civics and Government

    Standard II: What are the Foundations of the American Political System?

    B. What are the distinctive characteristics of American society?

    4. Diversity in American society. Students should be able to evaluate, take and defend positions on issues regarding diversity in American life. To achieve this standard, students should be able to describe conflicts that have arisen from diversity and explain the means by which some have been managed and explain why some conflicts have persisted unabated.

    The National Standards for Civics and Governmentexternal link ( are published by the Center for Civic Educationexternal link (

    National Social Studies Standards

    Standard I. Culture

    Students will learn about culture and cultural diversity.

    Students will explore complex cultural concepts such as adaptation, assimilation, acculturation, diffusion, and dissonance to explain how culture and cultural systems function.

    Standard VI. Power, Authority and Governance

    Students will understand the historical development of structures of power, authority and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary U.S. society as well as other parts of the world.

    The Curriculum Standards for Social Studiesexternal link ( are published by the National Council for Social Studiesexternal link (

    Discussion Questions

    1. According to the program, what is the "new wave of immigration"? How does this wave of immigrants compare with other waves of immigration throughout U.S. history? How might the four families featured in the program each describe this wave of immigration?

    2. What are some of the political, economic, social or cultural reasons why immigrants have historically come to the United States? Based on the information provided in Immigrant Nation, Divided Country, what do you think are the key factors motivating the new wave of immigrants, specifically illegal immigrants, to come to the U.S.?

    3. How has immigration historically impacted America economically, socially and culturally? How might Gabe or Rosa answer that question in the context of today's immigration? How might Donald Arthur King or Jimmy Hercheck respond to the same question? Based on what you learned in Immigrant Nation, Divided Country, how would you describe the legal debate over immigration? How does the legal debate differ from the cultural, economic, educational or medical debates over immigration? Do you find any of the debate topics more or less compelling that the others? Explain.

    4. What does it mean to assimilate? According to Harvard historian Samuel Huntington, how does this new wave of immigrants differ from other waves in terms the desire to assimilate? What does he say are the potential long-term implications for this shift? How do other perspectives in the program, such as that of restaurant owner John Dillard, counter Huntington's argument?

    5. What is the difference between legal and illegal immigration? Why do some people like Donald Arthur King say they are taking action to prevent illegal immigration? Why does King feel that immigrants are "taking over his nation"? What are his specific concerns with this wave of immigrants? For what or against whom do you think King is fighting? How do you think King's objections to the new immigrants compare to the reactions of others to previous waves of immigrants throughout U.S. history?

    6. How do economic experts weigh the pros and cons of the current wave of illegal immigrants? Who do they say are the winners and losers in this scenario? What are some reasons why employers hire illegal immigrants? Do you think immigrant workers who come to this country illegally help or hurt the U.S. economy? Explain.

    7. What do federal laws say about who has a right to an education in this country? What do federal laws say about who is entitled to emergency medical care? How are public education and Medicaid programs currently funded in the U.S.? According to Immigrant Nation, Divided Country, how do programs such as the Tax ID, free public education and Medicaid illustrate contradictions in U.S. policy on illegal immigration? Do you think that illegal immigrants should have a right to education and medical services? Defend your answer.

    8. Which government agencies are responsible for regulating illegal immigration in the U.S.? What are some of the challenges facing those involved with enforcing these laws? According to agent Mike Higgins, how have the terrorist attacks of September 11 affected how the immigration enforcement agents view their role in restricting illegal day laborers? How do you think U.S. officials should address the large numbers of illegal immigrants entering the country?

    9. What are your thoughts about the current wave of immigrants? Would you prefer to see more restrictions on illegal immigration? Why or why not? Do you think the United States should limit the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country? Why or why not? What attitudes and values do you think should influence U.S. immigration policy?

    Suggested Activities

    1. A Nation of Immigrants

    Discuss with students the meaning of the title of the CNN Presents Classroom Edition program Immigration Nation, Divided Country. Ask: Is the U.S. an immigrant nation? What are the implications of this label?

    Encourage students to conduct oral histories with relatives to learn more about how their families came to live in their current community. Students should collect data in the form of charts from as far back as they can on where their relatives lived, and where, when and why they moved. Have students consider both "push" factors, or those factors that encouraged people to leave their homeland, and "pull" factors, those factors that enticed newcomers specifically to the United States. Then, on maps of the world (or on maps of the U.S., if students cannot trace back to another country), have students indicate with markers the paths their families took to get where they live today. If possible, gather all student data onto one large map of the world.

    As students survey the maps, have them make some conclusions about the ethnic makeup of their classroom. Have them compare their findings to the ethnic diversity addressed in Immigrant Nation, Divided Country. Ask: How do you think the ethnic makeup of our community compares with other communities throughout the country? How do you account for the ethnic makeup of the students in the class? What do you think have been some of the social, economic and cultural impacts of immigrants on our community over time? Challenge students to investigate further how different waves of immigrants have influenced their community.

    2. Attitudes Toward Immigration

    Discuss with students some of the attitudes toward immigration that were portrayed in Immigrant Nation, Divided Country. Ask: In what ways does the program suggest the country is divided over the issue of immigration? Have students consider how these divisive attitudes today might compare with the attitudes towards immigrants during various time periods in U.S. history. Organize students into small groups and assign one of the following time periods to each group: 1700 -- 1820, 1820 -- 1860, 1860 -- 1890, 1890 -- 1910, 1910 -- 1950 and 1950 -- present. Have groups comb through their textbooks and the Web resources below to learn more about the laws that regulated immigration during their assigned time periods and chart their findings. Then, challenge groups to analyze political cartoons and other primary sources to learn more about the attitudes toward and values about immigration during their assigned time periods. Encourage the groups to hypothesize some of the reasons underlying the creation of immigration laws. After groups have presented their findings to the class, discuss what patterns or recurring themes, if any, they can infer about the reactions to immigrants throughout U.S. history.

    Based on what they learned in Immigrant Nation, Divided Country, have students respond to the following questions:

  • What are some of the reasons currently given in the U.S. to reduce immigration substantially or crack down on illegal immigration?
  • What do you think are some of the reasons underlying the concerns about the current wave of immigrants?
  • What issues regarding U.S. policies towards illegal immigrants were raised by some of the individuals in the program?
  • Then ask: How do these reasons and issues compare with those given by critics of previous waves of immigration in U.S. history?

    Based on their assessment of the new wave of immigration in the context of previous waves, challenge students to write letters to one of the families featured in the program, stating their attitudes towards immigration and whether or not they support the families' perspectives.


    Barrio, Latino, illegal immigration, American Dream, aliens, INS, ICE, undocumented, green card, deported, assimilate, liberal, native born, contradiction, Medicaid, tax ID, Homeland Security, amnesty, border

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