Lesson Plan: Immigrants and the U.S. Constitution

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This lesson will help students:

  • learn more about current immigrant experience
  • investigate U.S. immigration and labor laws
  • consider the meaning of citizenship
  • gain knowledge about the economics of poverty
  • practice research skills
  • practice persuasive writing skills

9 - 12


Social Studies, American History (immigration), U.S. Constitution, Civics, Economics, Chicano/Hispanic/Latino Studies


  • VHS of The Sixth Section with VCR & Monitor
  • Access to the Internet for student research
  • Handouts (included in the PDF version of this lesson plan)


3 class periods / 2 hours


Why Look at Immigration Issues?

A 2002 analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies indicates that 33.1 million legal and illegal immigrants live in the United States, more than double the number during the last great wave of immigration around 1910, when roughly 13 or 14 million immigrants lived in the United States. Immigrants comprise about 11% of the total U.S. population and, according to the University of California's Berkeley Institute of Industrial Relations, they provide more to the nation's economy than they use, adding about $10 billion each year to the U.S. gross product and paying at least $133 billion in taxes.

An estimated 3-4 million of these immigrants are undocumented Mexicans. Through groups known in English as HTAs, hometown associations, Mexican immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are sending $10 billion a year back to communities and family in Mexico. That amounts to Mexico's third largest source of revenue, after oil and tourism. For more information on HTAs, see the Discussion Guide (PDF).

The 26-minute long film, The Sixth Section, profiles one small HTA in Newburgh, NY. As a close-up of the challenges and accomplishments of the members of the Boqueron HTA, the documentary is an excellent springboard for classroom investigations of U.S. policies on key issues related to immigration and citizenship, including laws governing immigration, labor, and banking.


One of the duties of legislative aids is to prepare background reports on key issues for the Representative or Senator they serve. In this activity, students will take the role of a Congressional legislative aid serving a House Member representing Newburgh, NY. Students will prepare a report on an issue related to the immigrants they "meet" in the film The Sixth Section (all of whom live in Newburgh).

Step 1: Identifying the Issues (40 minutes)

Show The Sixth Section and ask students to think about how government policies might make life better or worse for the men they see in the film.
Note: For teachers wishing to engage students in a deeper discussion of the film, see the discussion guide (PDF).

Step 2: Assign Groups (20 minutes)
Explain to students that they are legislative aids assigned to help their representative, who serves Newburgh, NY, and figure out what position to take on an issue or piece of legislation that will affect the immigrants living in their district. Students can work as individuals or in groups on any ONE of the issues listed below:

Minimum Wage (Fair Labor Standards Act)
Border Security and Immigration Reform Act
National Labor Relations Act
Immigration Amnesty
Remittances and Banking Law Reform
North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA)

Get students started by briefly describing each issue and distributing the handouts. Handouts are included in the PDF version of this lesson plan.

Step 3: Preparing the Report (outside of class)

Students will research their issue and write a 2-5 page report for their legislator that includes:

The Introduction -- a brief summary of the essence of the issue and the position they are recommending
The Argument -- the major evidence in favor of their position
The Counterargument -- the major evidence against their position and an explanation of why that evidence is not as convincing as the evidence in favor of their position
The Conclusion -- a summary of the position that logically flows from their argument

Step 4: Class Discussion (one class period)
Hold a class discussion about each of the assigned issues. Ask students to consider whether their position might change if they were writing the report for a legislator from a different part of the country (e.g., the Texas border instead of Newburgh, NY).

Step 5: Assessment
Ask students to draft reports of their recommendations, including the evidence supporting their position. Evaluate the reports on clarity and quality of argument. If reports are unacceptable, ask students to re-write until they are of high enough quality to send to their elected Federal representatives and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who deal with immigration and labor issues. Committee assignments are available at: www.congress.org or www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
Reserve 20 minutes of class time later in the semester to share and discuss any responses the students receive.


  • Engage students in a project where they raise and pool funds for a school or community project.
  • Invite first generation immigrants - either students or their families - to visit your class and share their own experiences.
  • Use The Sixth Section with Spanish-speaking ESL students as a prompt to help them prepare reports on their hometowns to be shared with classmates and/or the broader community.
  • Compare the experiences of the men featured in The Sixth Section with the experience of other immigrant groups that students have studied or know.
  • Research the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico and/or the history of Chicanos in the U.S. Discuss the following quote: "Immigration is an issue of powerful symbolism for us. The debate on immigration policy often feels like an indicator of respect -- or the lack of it -- for the contributions of the larger Latino community to our common nation." --Raul Yzaguirre, President of the National Council of La Raza. For additional information, log on to the website of the National Council of La Raza www.nclr.org.
  • Discuss whether or not students think that the men featured in "The Sixth Section" would make good U.S. citizens. What makes a good citizen?
  • Discuss whether or not students think that the men featured in "The Sixth Section" are good role models.


Note: links open in a new window.

Immigration Issues

American Civil Liberties Union

American Immigration Law Foundation (AILF) is a not-for-profit educational, charitable organization dedicated to increasing public understanding of immigration law and policy and the value of immigration to American society; to promoting public service and excellence in the practice of immigration law; and to advancing fundamental fairness and due process under the law for immigrants.

Center for Immigration Studies

Enlaces América are committed to working with Latino immigrants in the U.S. to support them in developing the knowledge and capacity required to be effective advocates in shaping the multiple public policy decisions that impact their communities' lives here and in countries of origin.

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

National Immigration Forum seeks to embrace and uphold America's tradition as a nation of immigrants. The Forum advocates and builds public support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees and that are fair and supportive to newcomers in our country.

National Immigration Law Center

Numbers USA Education and Research Foundation, a Washington, D.C., organization devoted to immigration control

U.S. Mexico Immigration Issues. AILF links to resources, organizations and articles

U.S. Immigration Statistics. By Grant Makers Concerned with Immigrant Rights

Immigrant Proportions in Labor Force by State (Excel spreadsheet). By the National Immigration Law Center

Labor Issues


Center for Labor Research and Education, UCLA

International Labor Organization (ILO), a UN specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and and internationally recognized human and labor rights

Labor Council for Latin American Advancement is the AFL-CIO's official advocacy group dedicated to organizing and empowering or Latino workers and fighting for immigrant's rights. Website contains information on local chapters, national convention, and current news.

United Farmworkers

Mexico / Central America / Latin America & Related Immigrant Organizations

Asociacion Tepeyac

Central American Resource Center

LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens)

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund-MALDEF

Mexico Solidarity Network

National Council of La Raza, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, organization established in 1968 to reduce poverty and discrimination, and improve life opportunities for Hispanic Americans. NCLR is the largest constituency-based national Hispanic organization, serving all Hispanic nationality groups in all regions of the country. NCLR's Policy Analysis Center is the preeminent Hispanic "think tank" serving as a voice for Hispanic Americans in Washington, D.C., providing timely policy analyses and advocacy.

"Special Report: Immigrants In The New Economy", The American Prospect, July, 2003 / August, 2003


(from www.McRel.org)


Standard 13
Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity

3. Knows how the rights of organized labor and the role of government in regulating business have created political conflict

Standard 23

3. Understands the effects that significant American political developments have on other nations (e.g., immigration policies; opposition to communism; promotion of human rights; foreign trade; economic, military, and humanitarian aid)

7. Understands the principal effects that economic conditions, technological developments, and cultural developments in other nations have had on American society and the lives of American citizens (e.g., economic conditions such as multinational corporations, migration of labor; technological developments such as fax machines, personal computers, television; cultural developments such as religious movements, resurgence of ethnic consciousness)

Standard 24
Understands the meaning of citizenship in the United States, and knows the requirements for citizenship and naturalization

3. Knows the criteria used for admission to citizenship in the United States such as five years of residence in U.S.; ability to read, write, and speak English; proof of good moral character; knowledge of the history of the United States; knowledge of and support for the values and principles of American constitutional government

Standard 26

Understands issues regarding the proper scope and limits of rights and the relationships among personal, political, and economic rights

7. Understands the relationship of political rights to economic rights such as the right to choose one's work, to change employment, and to join a labor union and other lawful associations

Language Arts -- Writing

Standard 1

Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

9. Writes persuasive compositions that address problems/solutions or causes/effects (e.g., articulates a position through a thesis statement; anticipates and addresses counter arguments; backs up assertions using specific rhetorical devices [appeals to logic, appeals to emotion, uses personal anecdotes]; develops arguments using a variety of methods such as examples and details, commonly accepted beliefs, expert opinion, cause-and-effect reasoning, comparison-contrast reasoning)

Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Additional relevant standards include:

United States History, Era 10 -- (1968 to the present)

Standard 31: Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.

Language Arts -- Reading
Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.