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Image from the storyExamine Economic Factors That Influence Human Migration Along the U.S./Mexican Border

Target Grade Levels:
Grades 7-12

Poverty, Immigration, U.S. Influence Abroad, Economic Growth, NAFTA

• The Activity
• Relevant National Standards
• Ties to Literature

The Activity

To prepare for this activity, ask students to each bring in one newspaper article or an online news print-out of a recent story about an immigration issue facing your community or the United States as a whole. Have students take turns giving brief summaries of their articles and allow the class to react to the issues presented.

Point out that, with the exception of Native Americans, everyone in the United States is in this country, thanks to an immigrant. Perhaps some of the students in your class are immigrants themselves. While the U.S. has a strong immigrant tradition, the news articles show that immigration also brings a number of challenges.

Explain that people migrate to different countries for a number of reasons. Some people go because of unfavorable conditions in one's native country that "push" them to leave. Others go to a new country because they are drawn, or "pulled" there for economic and other incentives. Or people might be motivated by both kinds of factors. Ask students to take notes on such "push" and "pull" factors as they watch the true story of a Mexican man named Matias Juan Garcia Zavaleta, who died in 2003 while trying to illegally cross the U.S. border with Mexico. Then show the approximately 18-minute FRONTLINE/World video, "A Death in the Desert."
(Note: This story can be viewed online in its entirety. A free transcript is also available to assist with planning. Please see the "Related Story" box at left for details.)

After the video, discuss the economic "push" and "pull" factors that drove Matias to risk his life in an illegal border crossing. Point out that these factors were so powerful, that even after the experience of witnessing Matias' death and their deportation, Matias' brother and cousin immediately tried to cross the border again.

Next, explain that economic growth can ease some of the powerful "push" and "pull" factors that motivate people to migrate. Show them another story from Mexico, the 7:52-minute video, "The Ballad of Juan Quezada" (Note: This story can also be viewed online in its entirety. A free transcript is also available to assist with planning. Please see the "Related Story" box at left for details.) As students watch, ask them to take notes on the changes that economic growth brought to the town of Mata Ortiz.

After the video, talk about the changes that students observed in Mata Ortiz as a result of economic growth. Be sure to include in your discussion that economic growth alleviated poverty (work sells all over the world, some pieces sell for $3,500), raised the standard of living (through improved revenues), and created new employment and profit opportunities (hundreds of potters in Mata Ortiz, buyers go to Mata Ortiz to purchase pottery). Do students think the citizens of Mata Ortiz feel the same "push" and "pull" factors that drove Matias to cross the U.S./Mexican border? Why or why not?

Explain that one strategy that promised to bolster economic growth in Mexico was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which went into effect in 1994. Divide students into research groups and use FRONTLINE/World's Links on NAFTA and the Mexican Economy
to gather information on the history of the agreement, its main goals, key provisions affecting Mexico, praise and criticism of the agreement, and the impact the agreement has had on migration to the United States. Have each group report its findings to the class. Discuss how NAFTA has influenced the "push" and "pull" factors discussed earlier.

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Relevant National Standards

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) at

Standard 9, Level IV, Benchmark 5: Understands that economic growth can alleviate poverty, raise standards of living, create new employment and profit opportunities in some industries, but can also reduce opportunities in other industries

Standard 9: Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface

Level IV, Benchmark 3: Knows how international migrations are shaped by push and pull factors (e.g., political conditions, economic incentives, religious values, family ties)

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

Level IV, Benchmark 2: Understands how recent immigration and migration patterns, and demographic shifts, impacted social and political issues

Level IV, Benchmark 5: Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved

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