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Learning Activity: Examine the history of U.S. immigration policies

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(CNN Student News) -- Your students will examine the history of immigration in the U.S. and the current debate over illegal immigration.


Organize students into small groups, and assign one of the following time periods to each group: 1700 -- 1820, 1821 -- 1860, 1861 -- 1890, 1891 -- 1910, 1911 -- 1951 and 1950 -- present. Encourage groups to comb their textbooks and the Web resources listed to learn about the laws that regulated immigration during their assigned time periods. Have students 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 students to hypothesize some of the reasons underlying the creation of immigration laws. After groups present their findings, discuss what patterns or recurring themes, if any, exist regarding how immigrants have been viewed throughout U.S. history. Then, pose the following questions for class discussion:

  • In your view, how does the current wave of immigration compare to previous waves of immigration in U.S. history?
  • Why do you think that some U.S. citizens and lawmakers want to crack down on illegal immigration?
  • Do you think that the U.S. should limit the number of immigrants who are allowed to enter the country? Why or why not?
  • How do you feel about illegal immigration?
  • How do you think that lawmakers should address this issue?
  • 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 (


    immigration reform, illegal immigrants, border patrol, National Guard, guest worker



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