By Adam Strom, Director, Re-imagining Migration
Late last night, a new wave of COVID connected immigration news began to crash to shore. On Twitter, President Trump wrote, “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to suspend immigration into the United States temporarily!” I read the news just after finishing the final episode of HBO’s The Plot Against America, which portrays an America in which Charles Lindberg defeated FDR in the 1940 Presidential election. The irony of all of this on the eve of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is not lost on me. The connections and distinctions between past and present, fiction and nonfiction, were swirling in my head.
At stake is a fundamental vision of this country. The debate about our national identity is one that we have been having on and off since the colonists first came to these shores, claiming Native land for themselves. We have dual narratives of immigration in our history: one that welcomes newcomers and celebrates our immigrant heritage, and the other, rarely spoken out loud, of exclusion, restriction, and prejudice. Most of us haven’t been taught to think about these things, never mind the relationship between immigration and the civic life of a nation. In the COVID-19 crisis, these issues are coming together in ways that we must not ignore. If I had a classroom right now, even a virtual one, this is what I would be teaching about.
The current climate resurrects four fundamental civic challenges that have plagued our history. I describe them below along with questions that all of us, but particularly teachers and their students, should be respectfully talking about. If we do not confront these issues and take up the task of finding answers, the future of our democracy is at stake.
Scapegoating: In the early days of the crisis, many, including public officials, sought to explain the spread of the virus. To do that, they did what humans often do; they blamed someone or something else. China. Asians. Jews. As educators, we heard those stories even before schools closed. Asian students in many schools reported bullying, being called “corona” or blamed by students and sometimes even adults for the spread of the virus. What is the most effective way to respond? What are the risks of speaking out or intervening? What are the risks or not speaking out and not intervening? How is the anti-Asian and anti-immigrant scapegoating today similar and different than in other periods in our history?
Lesson from our Share My Lesson Collection:
Exclusion: President Trump seeks to “suspend immigration” and pause issuing green cards without an end date in response to COVID-19. Is this an appropriate response? In a global health crisis, what is our responsibility to people on the move? The President wants to suspend immigration in this crisis. Is it ever morally, legally, and ethically right to suspend our immigration laws and treaty obligations? If so, under what conditions and for how long? How should we weigh the President’s past rhetoric about immigrants and proposals about immigration as we consider our responses? How should our responses be informed by the historic responses to immigrants and those perceived as outsiders?
Resources from our Share My Lesson Collection:
Legal, Moral, and Ethical Questions of Belonging: About 25% percent of the health care workforce in this country are immigrants, many more are the children of immigrants. During the COVID-19 crisis many of those workers are putting their lives on the line for the health and safety of all of us. Do we owe them more than a slogan or a thank you? According to the New American Economy, a bi-partisan nonprofit research and advocacy group, 62,000 health care workers are eligible for DACA, another 280,000 are undocumented. Should they be offered legal protection for their service? What about citizenship? As this crisis unfolds, the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on DACA in the coming months. What are our moral and ethical obligations to those putting their lives on the line for our safety?
Lesson from our Share My Lesson Collection:
Citizenship and Voting Rights. The cancellation of citizenship naturalization ceremonies is adding a roadblock preventing the naturalization of over 440,000 new U.S. citizens. If the USCIS does not act soon, they will not be able to vote in the next election. According to NBC, “When USCIS shut down March 18, an estimated 126,000 people had completed their citizenship process and were scheduled to take the oath to become citizens.” Should people be granted the rights of citizenship if they have passed their test, but cannot gather in public to take an oath? What is the role of a naturalization ceremony? Would anything be lost if they were to take place online?
Resources for our Share My Lesson Collection:
These are pressing civic issues. At a time when many educators are tasked with adapting to teaching in a digital environment, we should take the opportunity to reflect on our students’ visions of their shared future.
Re-imagining Migration is here to help. During the COVID-19 crisis, we have been offering free professional learning experiences on our own and through Share My Lesson and we will be offering an online seminar this summer as part of our fellowship program. We have also developed a learning arc to help you develop curriculum and lessons exploring human migration. The learning arc is complimented by a collection of lessons and curated resources for K-12 classrooms, they too can be found on our website and on Share My Lesson. In addition, we offer thinking routines to facilitate engaging learning experiences aimed to nurture critical dispositions that we all need for living in an age of migration.
When the threat of COVID-19 recedes, these challenges will not go away. Instead, they will manifest themselves in a new form. To prepare ourselves, we are committed to helping educators prepare our rising generation of civic leaders to understand the centrality of migration to our communities, country, and the world.