Friday, December 18, 2015

A Land of Refuge or Refusal? A New Resource to Teach About the Refugee Experience in the U.S.

In response to domestic and overseas tragedies, some politicians have proposed shutting our doors to refugees, particularly those from Syria and Iraq. This “knee-jerk” reaction obscured logical thinking based on evidence, history, and analysis. More recently, a growing number of national leaders from a variety of fields—ranging from the military to faith—have spoken out in favor of welcoming of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other nations, often relying on historical examples to make their case.

This tension between refusal and refuge is not unknown in the history of U.S. immigration. In fact, this historical analysis is the basis of our latest classroom-ready resource, “A Land of Refuge or Refusal? Perspectives on the Refugee Experience in the United States.” The source text for this high school lesson plan is an article written by David W Haines, Ph.D. professor of anthropology at George Mason University. What this study of America’s past and present friction offers is a real learning opportunity for students to understand the construction of logical arguments, closely read and analyze the development of an author’s argument in a non-fiction text, and make connections to our present moment. It is the kind of critical and creative thinking about immigration so often missing from a national debate that we hope to inspire in your classroom and offer you a tool to do so. An extension for this lesson can also be made from this photo essay, Year in Twitter: Refugees Welcome, which expands upon the tension of refuge and refusal to a global perspective. Please exercise discretion as some of the images are graphic.

Please click here to view the lesson plan.

Please click here to view additional educational resources related to this topic.
German Steamer MS St. Louis in 1939 (Photo Courtesy: U.S. Department of State)

Syrian Refugees aboard a plastic dinghy (Photo Courtesy: Ben White/ CAFOD, October 2015)

A Land of Refuge or Refusal? Lesson Plan Overview

In this immigration lesson plan, students analyze key ideas in an academic article that provides background on the refugee experience in the United States, including examples of welcoming and exclusionary responses, as well as the impacts of these disparate reactions. After analyzing the author’s claims and evidence, students then apply one of those claims to the current refugee crisis in order to answer the question: how is America a land of refuge, refusal, or both?

This lesson encourages critical thinking from students in a very public discussion, both in the United States and abroad, about the worldwide refugee crisis. In recent years, the United States has welcomed 70,000 refugees per year. The President has indicated he intends to admit 85,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2016, including 10,000 from Syria.  This increase has been criticized by some who believe the United States should do much more to protect those fleeing dire situations and by some who fear that welcoming Syrian refugees may compromise our national security. In considering the appropriate U.S. response to the refugee crisis, it is important to remember the central role of refugees in the American experience.

Adaptations are made for English Language Learners and readers at multiple levels.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Our Most Popular Resources of 2015

As we look back at 2015 and spotlight our most popular education blogs, newsletters, and lessons, it is abundantly clear; the need to teach about immigration critically and factually is in high demand.

As you may know, the American Immigration Council is a non-profit organization and we rely greatly on the support of our constituents to fund the work we do.

We look forward to empowering teachers like you to help students think critically and creatively about immigration through lesson plans, professional development, creative writing contest, and teacher grants and we hope the value you see in our work is worth your monthly support or one-time gift.

Now, without further ado, our most popular resources of 2015!

Top 5 Blogs

  •  Interpreting César Chávez’s Legacy with Students – We offer several ways educators of all levels can teach about César Chávez’s life and legacy with students including with our bilingual lesson plan which encourages students to read Chavez’s own recollections of his adolescence as a migrant farm worker and interpret how that influenced his later achievements.

Top 5 Newsletters

Top 5 Lesson Plans
  •  Crossing Borders with Digital Storytelling – Using digital storytelling to capture immigration stories is a powerful way for teachers to create opportunities for “empathetic moments” among students and shape classroom environments.
  • Immigration Status Privilege Walk ­– Students engage in an interactive activity and learn the ‘benefits’ and ‘limitations’ conferred by a fictional immigration status.
  • Migrant Workers Social Justice Project In a service-learning project, students brought awareness and assistance to migrant farm workers as a result of our community grant awarded to Delia Lancaster, a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Palm Bay, Florida. Use this lesson plan to create a similar service-learning initiative in your community.
  • The First American Settlers and the First Thanksgiving – Bookmark this lesson for next year as students learn and discuss the myths and facts surrounding the first Thanksgiving and the first immigrants and identify dominant and resistant readings of this national holiday.

We’d love to hear how you’ve used our resources (you can send us an email) and we hope many of you are inspired to use them in 2016!  We will continue to push out new materials so you can teach about immigration past and present with students of all ages.

If you like our work, please pass this email to a friend and include us in your year-end donations so we can continue to be a free resource for teachers. Thank you in advance for your support! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Message of Inclusion and Understanding

In an open letter addressed to Donald Trump, Rais Bhuiyan, founder of World Without Hate, hate-crime survivor, and advocate for radical forgiveness, delivers a message of inclusion and understanding that is of such importance, we wanted to send it directly to you with his permission. If you are interested in learning more about Bhuiyan’s story, please read our book review of The True American and corresponding lesson plan.

Dear Mr. Trump,

I am an American Muslim. I deplore the acts of violence and hatred that are wrongly performed in the name of my religion. I denounce the actions of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and all terrorist organizations. They do not represent me or my beliefs, and they do not reflect the lessons taught in the Qur’an. I also denounce all manifestations of hateful thoughts, acts, writings and deeds.

While I respect you for attaining your leading position in the Republican Party’s run for President, as such a leader, I urge you to learn about and get to know the minorities and immigrants who call the United States home. American Muslims are an integral part of our society. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, first-responders and firefighters, business owners, police officers, and peace activists, like me. Over 10,000 American Muslims currently serve in the U.S. military and are ready to put their lives on the line to protect our freedom and liberties. American Muslims, like their fellow citizens, are patriotic Americans, who have been living and working in this country for centuries. It not only devastates American Muslims like me for this country’s leaders to question our allegiance, it sends an extraordinarily distressing message worldwide. You have a unique position in American society, people take your words seriously, they listen to and believe you. It is imperative that you properly represent all Americans, and that includes Muslims who are voters, citizens, professionals, family members and loyal Americans. As citizens of this nation, we should be doing things to strengthen and empower one another, not discouraging or demonizing some among us, and not casting doubt upon their loyalties and love for our country.

I have spent my life preaching the value of radical forgiveness ever since I was shot in the face ten days after 9/11 by an American espousing values similar to the ones you voiced yesterday. I know how tempting it was to BLAME the whites, the Christians, or all the Americans’ because of the white supremacist who shot me in the face and killed two innocent South East Asians and voluntarily told the media, after his arrest, that what he did, most Americans wanted to do, but they did not have the guts to do it. He BLAMED me and “my kind” for 9/11.  He thought that America was no place for Muslims until I started a campaign to save him from death row. He was ultimately executed, but not before he called me “brother” and he said that he loved me.

America needs to understand, to repair, and to heal.  America does deserve better.  We deserve better treatment from ourselves.  We deserve a country that lives up to its original creed – that ALL men (and women) are created equal.  At a time when most Americans were uninformed, misinformed, or simply afraid of Islam, Thomas Jefferson imagined Muslims as future citizens of his new nation. His engagement with the faith began with the purchase of a Qur’an eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. “Neither Pagan nor Mahamedan [Muslim] nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” — Thomas Jefferson, quoting John Locke, 1776

Your recent comments against Muslims are spreading fear, hate, and causing destruction in our society, and it’s not healthy. Your recent speech reminds me of the famous quote of Abraham Lincoln – “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you, as one American Muslim, to talk with you further about the contributions that American Muslims can make to improving our national security and helping this nation to be the best it can be. Muslims have value, Mr. Trump, and all Muslims are not violent. I would like to demonstrate these truths to you. 


Rais Bhuiyan

If you like this letter, please send it to a friend and give them this link to receive updates and free resources such as lesson plans, books reviews, and community grants. Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To Teach Civic Engagement, Students Have to Practice It in the Classroom

Young people may not have the power to cast a vote, but more and more youth are engaged to make their voices heard in politics. Young people are motivated to see changes in policies and they offer different perspectives that have the potential to move ideas forward. Their participation in politics is invaluable to the future of democracy—and yet “their civic and political commitment is the lowest of all demographic groups, judged by traditional standards” according to the MacArthur Foundation.

At the same time, young people gravitate to social media and other technology that spreads their points of view via peers and influencers. This trend has given rise to youth participatory politics: interactive peer-based acts, which give both individuals and groups the power of voice and the ability to influence laws and policies. As an educator, you can meet your students where they are with new media and social networking by sharing with them the power of engaging civically with the tools and channels they are already using.

The modern phenomenon of youth participatory politics and “e-democracy” has engaged students across the globe to get involved in issues they want to see evolve.  Examples include events like poetry slams or near-peer workshops and forums as well as writing blog posts, sharing political cartoons, participating in mock-voting and sharing petitions. These are all civic engagement opportunities students can do before they are able to vote. 

Moreover, these activities reach large audiences and engage others either in person or on line. A survey of 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers by Pew Research showed that 96% agree (including 52% who strongly agree) that digital technologies “allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience.” Students are empowered to share facts about a cause to start a dialogue that can shape agendas and provide feedback to decision makers. 

When you give young people the opportunity to voice their opinions and share their beliefs whether through the sharing of information, the creation of materials (a blog post, letter to the editor, or informational video) or the circulation of links, petitions or polls you will likely see enthusiasm and excitement in learning because these tools have real time metrics that enable students to measure their influence.

Some suggested activities for young people who may not be able to vote yet are:
·       Get involved locally: volunteer on or start a campaign.
·       Attend a city council or town hall meeting and talk to your council members.
·       Start or participate in a petition. Petitions allow you to voice your concerns with local, state and national issues.
·       Find and research your state and congressional representatives. Who are they? What do they stand for? What bills have they voted for/against? Do these policies best represent you and your community.
·       Learn deeply and share information with you peers. All change begins with knowledge.
·       Use social media to share what you are passionate about and the changes you wish to see.
The American Immigration Council suggests participating in a petition to the White House. Petitions to the White House are an effective way to have voices heard and to have a demonstrated impact. Be a part of history and help us launch the National Museum of the American People (NMAP). It is destined to become one of the greatest and most dynamic immigration history museums anywhere.

NMAP will tell about the making of the American People, our nation’s central story, and will be a must-visit on every school trip to Washington. The museum will focus on all of the ethnic, nationality and minority groups in our nation beginning with the first humans in the Western Hemisphere and proceeding through waves of immigration and migration until today. It can facilitate learning nationwide and help bind us as a nation.

Please go to and sign our petition on the White House web site and provide your name, email and zip code. You will then be sent an email for you to verify your petition signature.

Then, as a further step in participatory politics, you can forward the White House link to your social networks. We, of course, invite you to make this a class project. We want thousands of teachers and students, especially new immigrants, to endorse this museum.

Stay Connected!
We offers free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to teach immigration. We also welcome teacher and student book reviews and contributions to our blog. Email us at and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration