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Freedom from Fear


In this lesson, students learn about the process of applying for asylum through a mock trial involving the case of Rodi Alvarado, whose petition for asylum because she is fleeing domestic violence is featured in the episode, "Breaking Free: A Woman's Journey."

Grade Level: 7-12

Subject Area(s): United States History, World History, Civics

Time Needed for Lesson: Approximately one week


As a result of the lesson, students will

  1. Gain a more complete idea of the issues involved in the asylum process
  2. Develop effective research and persuasive speaking skills
  3. Understand issues that affect persons in other countries and why they seek refuge in the United States

Materials needed: Computer(s) with Internet access, a copy of "Destination America" (Visit Shop PBS for ordering information.) The teacher may also wish to videotape the resulting trial, which would require videotaping capability.


This lesson meets the following national content standards established by Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)

United States History:

  • Understands the factors that prompted new immigration in contemporary American society (e.g., new immigration policies after 1965, areas of the world from which most immigrants have come)
  • Understands how different groups attempted to achieve their goals (e.g., the grievances of racial and ethnic minorities and their reference to the nation's charter documents to rectify past injustices, local community efforts to adapt facilities for the disabled)

World History:

  • Understands the causes, consequences, and major patterns of international migration in the late 20th century compared to world population movements of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th
  • Understands causes of economic imbalances and social inequalities among the world's peoples and efforts made to close these gaps
  • Understands connections between globalizing trends in economy, technology, and culture and dynamic assertions of traditional cultural identity and distinctiveness


  • Understands the meaning of citizenship in the United States, and knows the requirements for citizenship and naturalization
  • Knows that citizens owe allegiance or loyalty to the United States and in turn they receive protection and other services from the government
  • Knows the difference between a citizen and non-citizen

Teaching Strategy:

The teacher might introduce the lesson with a discussion why many settlers came to the American colonies in the 17th and 18th Century. Some students will probably note that they came here seeking religious freedom or some sort of political rights. Next, write the following statement (definition of a refugee) on the chalkboard or overhead projector:

...and who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Ask students if they believe that some, many, or all of those who settled in the 13 Colonies might have fit that definition of a refugee. (Some students, based on their study of United States History, might say "most" because of the number of colonists who came to the New World seeking religious freedom. A few may note that African Americans may have been the victims of racial persecution because of forced slavery.)

Next, ask students if there are, or should be, other groups that should be considered "refugees" and deserve asylum status. List these groups on the chalkboard, if desired. Once students have created the list, tell the class that in their lesson, they'll be working as an "immigration (mock) court" to determine whether a special case merits asylum.

The teacher can then show the Destination America episode, "Breaking Free: A Woman's Journey," focusing on the case of Rodi Alvarado. Mention to students before showing the film that they will be role-playing various participants in the case, as well as lawyers representing Alvarado, lawyers representing the opposition (government agents opposed to giving her asylum status), as well as court officials (for example, a judge and bailiff), as well as a jury hearing the case.

(Note: Specific time cues in the film "Breaking Free: A Woman's Story" which deal with the case of Rodi Alvarado and issues related to the lesson include from the 1:40-12:50 mark in the video, as well as the 48:40-53:40 mark.)

Instruct the students to look for information and opinions on the case, both positive and negative. Remind the students that regardless of what personal position they may have on this case (or similar cases), because of their employment or who hires them as a client, they may have to take the opposite side in court. In addition, by charting both viewpoints, students can anticipate and plan for the opposition's attack.

After viewing the film, the class should next review the procedure for a mock court trial. The teacher may wish to prepare the trial format in advance, depending on the class period time frame, number of students in the class, and other considerations.

Some basic framework ideas for mock trials can be found at:

Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court (Lake and McHenry (Illinois) Counties) Guide to Conducting Mock Trials

American Bar Association Mock Trial Guide (on the site)

New Mexico High School Mock Trial Guidelines

Typically, however, a trial will include the following steps:

Prosecution (Plaintiff in a Civil Case) Opening Statement
Defense Opening Statement

Prosecution Case:

  • Direct of Prosecution Witness One
  • Cross of Prosecution Witness One
  • Direct of Prosecution Witness Two
  • Cross of Prosecution Witness Two
  • Direct of Prosecution Witness Three
  • Cross of Prosecution Witness Three

Defense Case:

  • Direct of Defense Witness One
  • Cross of Defense Witness One
  • Direct of Defense Witness Two
  • Cross of Defense Witness Two
  • Direct of Defense Witness Three
  • Cross of Defense Witness Three

Prosecution Closing Arguments
Defense Closing Arguments
Prosecution Rebuttal

The direct of a prosecution witness is conducted by a prosecution lawyer, then that witness is crossed by a defense lawyer. Similarly, the direct of a defense witness is conducted by a defense lawyer, then that witness is crossed by a prosecution lawyer. (This information can be found at the Duke University Mock Trial web site,

Once students are acquainted with the framework for the trial, the teacher (or the teacher and the class) can begin to assign roles for various duties related to the trial. See PDF Handout for suggested roles.

Evaluation procedure:

The teacher may wish to utilize a simple procedure of asking the jury (whether made up of students, teachers, or other persons) to write whether they agree more with the Prosecution or the Defense in the case. Whichever side receives a majority of the votes in balloting wins the case. The teacher may also decide to ask the jury to critique the performance of both sides in order to provide positive feedback as to the effectiveness of the prosecution and defense teams.

Extension Activities:

If possible, the teacher may wish to bring into the class a representative from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to speak to the class about procedures for obtaining asylum status.

The teacher may also wish to have the class research other instances where persons have sought asylum status beyond the "well-founded fear" criteria listed above. Have any been successful? Students can write reports or position papers regarding increasing (or decreasing) current policies regarding asylum and refugee status.

Online Resources:

Destination America

Destination America "Freedom from Fear" webpage

Destination America "When Did They Come?" webpage

Destination American "Freedom From Oppression" webpage featuring Real Video on Rodi Alvarado

Destination America "Personal Stories" webpage featuring Rodi Alvarado

Well-Founded Fear website

US Citizenship and Immigration Services "Obtaining Asylum in the United States"

United States State Department Human Rights page

Human Rights First Update on the Rodi Alvarado case

US Immigration Asylum Forms and Declarations

Immigration Court Process in the United States (US Department of Justice)

Freedom to Worship | Freedom from Oppression | Freedom from Want | Freedom from Fear| Freedom to Create

Sources: Destination America

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