Examining Immigration Reform Legislation in the Classroom: Student Activism and Policy Matters

Ten years after the bill was first introduced, today the Senate finally found the time to hold a hearing about The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The DREAM Act). This legislation would provide undocumented children with a pathway to maintain residency and opportunities to become citizens. It continues to be met with fierce opposition from the usual suspects who seek to scaremonger, exclude and alienate.

The issue of immigration reform provides great opportunities for teachers to involve students in the practice of meaningful and purposeful scholarship. Much of the opposition to immigration reform and the fire behind anti-immigration legislation is the reality of changing demographics and rise of the Latino student population (See SB 20 in South Carolina, HB 87 the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 in Georgia and SB 1070 the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act in Arizona for a few examples). Recent NAEP analyses have noted that Latinos are the second largest racial/ethnic group in the United States; over the past 10 years their population has increased by about 43 percent. Mexican American students comprise about two-thirds of Latino eighth graders in public schools nationally and in the state of California 80 percent of Latino eighth graders are Mexican American. The state of California has one of the largest Latino populations, most of which were not born in the United States.

My sixth grade middle school students have engaged numerous policy matters and shown a particular interest in immigration reform. In 2006, one of the matters they addressed was The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act (HR 4437); students brought HR 4437 to my attention because they felt it was an anti-amnesty, enforcement-only, xenophobic bill that threatened their families and people they knew and sought to harshly criminalize those who assisted individuals seeking asylum. The nationwide protest and boycott activities surrounding HR 4437 are historic in nature because they represent the first massive national push and mobilization for Latino communities around the issues of immigration and human rights.

Sort of like the present sense of urgency being produced by the Obama administration’s attempt to shotgun the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB by fall, my students felt a sense of urgency regarding HR 4437 because it had already passed in the House of Representatives and was under Senate consideration. Because I had read House Mouse, Senate Mouse to them, they knew what that meant and also knew it was time to inform others and act.

As part of a Civics elective class I developed, in 2006 students researched HR 4437 in depth, organized and held a community panel for fellow students, parents, teachers, local education leaders, political representative office staff, and school principals where they presented information about the bill’s provisions to inform and respond to community questions/opinions, performed songs and poems stating their conclusions about the bill, and wrote letters to their local legislative representatives; in addition, numerous students and their parents reported to me with elation about their attendance at the historic March 25, 2006 march (The Great March / La Gran Marcha), and May 1, 2006 Great American Boycott/Day Without Immigrants march/protest against HR 4437 in Los Angeles (two of the largest civil/human rights protests in the city and nation’s history). Several of the students and their families also participated in the Great American Walkouts of March 24 – March 31, 2006 that were staged by students nationwide to protest HR 4437. Students and communities rose up and apparently, someone was listening to their voices because the bill died in the Senate. To date, comprehensive immigration reform remains a priority political issue for many families in the Latino community and for people that support liberty and justice for all.

Student Activism in Action: Inform and Engage the Community about HR 4437

Following is an edited 5 minute snippet showing part of a 2 hour community panel presentation and dialogue conducted entirely by my sixth grade students in 2006 about HR 4437:

Parent Response to Student Activism

Following is a parent comment made during the panel’s question and answer period:

Teaching Tools

Additional information about HR 4437 from a summative PowerPoint presented to students:

School should not be disconnected from students' daily lives. We live in fascinating times and it is possible for schools to engage communities with issues that are important to them while increasing the practice of scholarly dialogue. Every day, we are making and living history. The ongoing issues of immigration reform legislation afford teachers of students in Latino communities and all communities with an opportunity to consider the concepts of social conflict, basic human rights, justice, global awareness, fairness, and human dignity. Many activities -- from classroom discussions to school-community panels to Socratic Seminars to the development of poetry, songs, and dance performances can provide students with an opportunity to address these matters in an engaging way and practice expressing their viewpoints to others.



  1. For those who emailed me, the legislative frameworks students on the panel used to explore the HR 4437 were: 1) The United States Constitution and 2) The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Please feel free to post comments/questions about my posts here on the blog.

  2. For those who emailed me, here are a few student organizations for immigration rights:

    BAMN: Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary http://www.bamn.com/

    The Dream is Coming Project http://www.thedreamiscoming.com/

    Dream Activist http://www.dreamactivist.org

    United we Dream http://unitedwedream.org/

    Pass the Dream Project http://passthedream.org/

    NIYA: The National Immigrant Youth Alliance http://theniya.org

    NWIYA: Northwest Immigrant Youth Alliance http://www.facebook.com

    Student Immigrant Movement http://www.simforus.com

    GUYA: Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance gaundocumentedyouthalliance@gmail.com

    California Dream Network http://www.cadreamnetwork.org/

    Good Resources for Immigration Rights in General:

    ACLU Immigrant Rights (http://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights)

    Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (http://www.nwirp.org/)

    CHIRLA: The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (http://www.chirla.org/)

    American Immigration Lawyers Association (http://www.aila.org/)

    Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (http://www.maldef.org)

    E4FC: Educators for Fair Consideration (http://e4fc.org/)

    Books and Movies:

    An Unfinished Dream (http://www.anunfinisheddream.com/)

    We ARE Americans: Undocumented Students Pursuing The American Dream by Dr. William Perez (http://williamperezphd.com/)

    Papers the Movie (http://www.papersthemovie.com)

    EF4C STORIES AND POEMS BY IMMIGRANT STUDENTS (http://e4fc.org/studentresources/studentstoriesandpoems.html)

    Please feel free to post comments/questions about my posts here on the blog so everyone can benefit from the exchange.