Step 1: Research
Explain to students that they are going to step into the role of being immigration court judges. They will be asked to consider a case of a family fleeing Iran. The family is requesting asylum and permanent resident status.
Before they can hear the case, they must know the law. So their first assignment is to become familiar with current U.S. laws governing refugees. (Advanced students might also be asked to compare U.S. law with international legal standards).
For this stage, you can decide whether they must summarize their work in writing or simply know it well enough to function as a judge. In the final step of this lesson, they will be asked to provide a written verdict, which will need to cite the basis for their decision, so, at a minimum, they will need to take notes.
Depending on which research skills you want students to practice, you can leave the task open-ended, or you can require that they start with the websites in the Resources section.
Step 2: Hearing the Case
a) Do a quick check in to ensure that students understood the basics from their research. This would include the difference between an immigrant and a refugee, what constitutes “well-founded fear,” and any specifics of current policy that are relevant (e.g., borders completely closed to combat a pandemic, or refugees declined from all nations deemed by the current administration to be a security threat).
b) Remind students of their main assignment: They are immigration judges and will need to submit a written verdict about whether to allow or deny Sahand, Leila, and Mani entrance into the U.S. That verdict will need to cite specific evidence and reasoning for their decision. They will be permitted to cite ethics, laws, and specific elements of the family’s story. For that reason, they may want to take notes as they view the “evidence.”
c) Convene the “hearing” and play all of the video clips. You may want to pause a couple of times for students to share reactions, but reserve most of the discussion time.
d) After the final clip, invite students to share reactions to what they’ve seen so far. Are there details that make the case particularly difficult or hard to decide? As time allows, guide students to explore any differences between legal and ethical standards.
e) Distribute the “Testimony” handout. If any time remains, allow students to begin working on their verdict.
Step 3: The Verdict
On the day that students are required to turn in their written work, take a quick poll to see if there was consensus. Invite students to share their reasoning and any new insights that have re-shaped the way they think about U.S. immigration policy.
End by making connections to your curriculum. For example, if you are teaching a government/civics class, what did students learn about the law? Do current laws match their personal ethical standards? If not, what actions could they take? In a global studies course you might introduce current UN statistics on current estimates for the number of refugees globally, their origin, and the primary causes of migration.
Use students’ written verdict to assess their comprehension of the lesson, and any other skills you need to evaluate (e.g., writing, linking argument to evidence, research skills).