Chicago Public Schools students react to Obama's immigration executive order: teaching controversial issues in the classroom

Teaching writing allows me numerous opportunities to help students see how what we read and write matters in the real world outside of our classroom.  Yesterday, I gave students the opportunity to understand and react to President Obama’s speech about his immigration executive order.  The approach I used in class with my Chicago Public Schools juniors and seniors can be easily adapted when discussing any debatable issue in the classroom.   This is a simple way to help students understand, contemplate, and evaluate important, complex contemporary issues without lots of preparation time.

I follow the three part approach to critical thinking:

  • Level 1: Gather and understand information
  • Level 2: Consider other perspectives and implications
  • Level 3: Make a judgment

Students also develop skills using primary and secondary sources.

Start with the Primary Source

First, students heard the opening of Obama’s speech and I stopped the clip before the president announced the three parts of his executive order.  To help students understand the classic approach to argumentative writing, I asked students to look at a transcript of what they heard (just a few minutes of the beginning) and identify how the info falls into two categories:

  • What most people will agree with
  • What problems exist, the “however” part

We worked together to fill in the two columns.  Then we moved on to paraphrasing the three elements of the executive order.

My Chicago Public Schools students determine the classic argumentative writing moves used by President Obama in Thursday's speech about his immigration executive order.

My Chicago Public Schools students determine the classic argumentative writing moves used by President Obama in the opening of Thursday's speech about his immigration executive order.

Move on to a Secondary Source

To help students consider multiple views, we moved away from the speech and listened to an NPR piece that presented Mexican immigrants’ views, supportive and skeptical, of Obama’s executive order.

I asked students to classify what can happen and distinguish this from what cannot or likely will not happen.  Again, this helps students consider multiple views and implications.  As student compile that actual guidelines of the executive order, they generate “what if” scenarios to clarify misconceptions.

My Chicago Public  Schools students analyze the requirements of President Obama's immigration executive order.

My Chicago Public
Schools students analyze the requirements of President Obama's immigration executive order.

Students Express Their Judgment

Finally, I asked students to articulate their evaluation of Obama’s executive order in a few sentences. They needed to use the organization patterns and sentence structures we learned the last few weeks.

Students had three options for a response:

  1. Agreement with Obama’s decision (about 15% of students chose this option)
  2. Disagreement with Obama’s decision (about 10% choose this)
  3. Partly agree / partly disagree with Obama’s decision (about 75% choose this)

Here is a sampling of students’ responses:

“Immigration has always been a topic to talk about or have an argument about.  I agree that, for decades, we haven’t done much about it because it just creates more conflict.  Obama called on illegal immigrants to “come out of the shadows” and “to get right with the law.”  However, how do we know if immigrants will be treated fairly or be exploited?  He says we welcome immigrants, but do we really?  Over the years, there’s been a large amount of immigrants deported and treated unfairly.  The executive order provides a 2-year permit but it does not benefit people without children.”          --Jazmine

“I think the executive order is something that can be controversial.  I agree with the privileges that are given even if they don’t legalize immigrants because it’s better than nothing.  Yet, I disagree with parents of DREAMers not being able to qualify because what if they’ve been here for a long time?  I feel like the 2-3 years given have a shady side because Obama’s presidency will be over in about 2 years and he is the one being very supportive of it.  Now I think about those who will apply and give their information; consequently, the government will know where an undocumented person is after the 2 years pass.  What will happen to the undocumented immigrants after the 2 years?”          --Andrea

“I believe Obama’s executive order is a good thing.  It gives immigrants a chance to work with a permit and travel.  In addition, the immigrants won’t get deported with a valid permit.  Furthermore, immigrants must have been in the U.S. for at least 5 years.  On the other hand, I don’t agree with people not being included because they do not have children.  It also does not legalize immigrants or give them a green card.  I also don’t like the fact that parents of DREAMers don’t qualify because they try their best to support their kids.”          --Julie

“I partially agree with Obama’s executive order because it does benefit immigrants for a short period of time.  However, many questions were left unanswered.  What happens after the two years?  The information on the immigrants would be known because of the temporary permit, so the government can us the information to deport them after time is up.”          --Oscar

“President Obama decision to fix our immigration is very argumentative in my opinion. Although I do agree with the most of the ideas, I don't agree with the fact that is specific to people living in the U.S for over 5 years and are parents to citizens. It really does exclude a vast number of immigrants, and it is only a temporary plan. After two years are up, it is a real threat to the ones that were allowed to have residency without deportation and that doesn't sound comforting. If anything, those people that used to live in the shadows are brought up to make them easily identified after two years. What will happen to those who aren't eligible for temporary residency?”          --Areli

“It was great to hear Obama finally talk about our broken immigration system. As he said in his speech, he had committed to fix the broken immigration system and he finally came to an executive order. It was time to fix the lives of many immigrants who live in fear and want to embrace the same American responsibilities. We all agree that immigrants should pay fines for the laws that were broken. We also want special resources for the border. Although after years of living here, only people with U.S born children can benefit from this. How about single responsible immigrants?   In addition after two years, what happens when Obama leaves the White House?”           --Lisseth

“My opinion on Obama’s decision is that he isn’t really doing something to improve on immigration. He is giving people a chance to get a 2-year temporary residence card, but what happens after the two years?  Also it doesn’t help them with citizenship or leadership. These people are limited to the time they have. Many immigrants have been here for many years and have families. These families will be separated because of this. I think instead of just a 2-year temporary card, they should gain citizenship. Then those with criminal records should not be qualified for this citizenship.”          --Maggie

“My reaction to Obama’s announcements on immigration would be it’s a great start. Honestly, republican should have seen this coming since they refused to vote for an immigration reform. Although, it’s a short term (2 years) of no deportation of families, it is still a little hope. I totally agree on criminals being deported why, because don’t come here just to kill or rob. It’s a great opportunity for people to come out of the “shadows” and not worry daily of what ICE comes looking for them. The latino community should blame the Republicans about the immigration reform not being passed, not Obama. Things can be done if we all agree on something. So are the immigrants going to get a passport or something to travel? How are they going to travel?:          --Jasmine

"I respect Obamas decision, but I think the timing is off. Obama has been in office for six years and a change like this is barely being made. Legalization is not promised after two years are up, so it almost feels pointless. If a long term change is not being made I wonder how effective it'll actually be."          --Guadalupe

"I heard about the president's speech yesterday  but didn't pay attention to it. Now that I have seen it, I understand what my family was talking about yesterday. The 2 year program, in my opinion, is a good idea.  I mean, at least people who qualify for it it have 2 years to visit their family and travel. But after those  2 years what is going to happen? Is the program still going to go on?  Because Obama will not be in office, that all could change."          --Jessica

"My reaction to obamas decision is bad even if he tells us he wants to help the immigrants. Why will they only make it for  two years?  What is going to happen after the two years of them traveling?  Are they going to be deported?  He is not explaining himself.”          --Kimberly

***Read how my students evaluated President Obama's Ferguson statement.

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