Curriculum Connections Huddled Mass or Second Class? Secondary Level Lesson

“Walling Out the Unwanted”: Understanding the Barriers that Perpetuate Anti-Immigrant Bias


This lesson increases student awareness about the physical and symbolic barriers that create divides between immigrants and native born residents of the U.S., and engages students in an exploration of the ways in which mainstream discourse on immigration can perpetuate bias and bigotry. Students analyze poetry, blog posts, readings and media clips in order to deepen their understanding of the negative consequences of anti-immigrant language. Students also learn about current legislation related to immigration and ways to take action against anti-immigrant prejudice and discrimination.


  • Students will analyze poetry in order to better understand immigration issues.
  • Students will learn about the U.S. – Mexico border fence and debate the notion of walls as a strategy for limiting illegal immigration.
  • Students will explore the language used to discuss immigration in the mainstream media, and increase their media literacy skills.
  • Students will increase their awareness about the repercussions of anti-immigrant discourse and bias.
  • Students will learn about current legislation related to immigration.
  • Students will develop skills to take action against anti-immigrant bias.




  • Part I: 60 – 90 minutes
  • Part II: 60 – 90 minutes
  • Part III: 30 – 45 minutes + time for action projects

Grade Level: Grades 10 – 12

Strategies and Skills: analyzing poetry, brainstorming, case study, cooperative group work, critical thinking, debate, forming opinions, large and small group discussion, media literacy, reading skills, research skills, social action, substantiating factual information, using the Internet, writing skills

Key Words and Phrases: alien, amnesty, assimilate, barrier, bias, border, commentary, comprehensive, demographic, demonize, deportation, enforcement, First World, immigrant, immigration, immigration reform, legislation, mainstream media, melting pot, minority, nativist, pundit, scapegoat, stereotype, Third World, undocumented, wedge issue, xenophobia


Handouts/Supporting Documents:  download all handouts (.pdf format)

  • Mending Wall (one per student)
  • A Voice from the Border (one per student)
  • 700-Mile Border Fence Between the United States and Mexico (one per student)
  • Walls or Barriers? (one per student)
  • You've Been Framed! (one per student)
  • Media Analysis: The Framing of Immigration (one per small group)
  • Immigration in the Media: Sample Commentary (one copy)
  • Immigration in the Media: Book Excerpts and Article (one per small group)
  • Who is to Blame for Marcelo Lucero's Murder? (one per student)
  • Taking Action on Immigration Issues (one copy)

Other Materials: chart paper, markers; the following additional materials are optional: computer, LCD projector, Internet connection, Mending Wall audio version, International Border Fence video, Codewords of Hate video

Advance Preparation:

  • Reproduce handouts as directed above.
  • Assign Mending Wall for homework (see step #1).
  • Prepare computer, projector and screen (optional).
  • Label a sheet of chart paper, 700-Mile Border Fence Between the United States and Mexico.
  • Cut sheets of chart paper into strips, about 4 – 6 inches tall, enough for each student to have one strip.


Part I: “Something there is that doesn't love a wall” (60 – 90 minutes)

  1. Prior to the lesson, have students read Mending Wall by Robert Frost for homework. Assign students to think about or respond in writing to one or more of the questions or topics for further study that follow the poem.

  2. Begin the lesson by having volunteers read Mending Wall aloud or by playing the audio version of Robert Frost reading his poem. Discuss some of the questions that you assigned students to think or write about for homework.

  3. Divide the class into small groups of 3 – 4 students and provide each student with a copy of A Voice from the Border by Jorge Nunez. Direct groups to read the poem and discuss some of the questions that follow it. Allow about 10 minutes for discussion.

  4. Reconvene the class and discuss some of the following questions:

    • How would you compare Mending Wall and Voice from the Border? What themes do both poems have in common?

    • A physical wall is the focal point of both poems. What literal or figurative walls might these be symbols for?

    • What does each poem say about the nature of walls?

    • Mending Wall was written in 1914 and some have interpreted the poem as a comment on the growing tendency of the U.S. to isolate itself from the rest of the world at the beginning of World War I. What contemporary issue might Nunez be exploring through his poem? What message do you think he is trying to communicate about this issue?

  5. Play the video of the International Border Fence. Ask students if they know what wall is depicted in the footage. If students do not know, tell them that it is a section of the border fence that separates the U.S. and Mexico. Point out that this is most likely the “huge wall” that Nunez writes about in his poem. Ask students what they know about the wall. Share some of the following facts with them:

    • In 2006 Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which authorized nearly $3 billion for 670 miles of fencing stretching from California to Texas, as well as lights, sensors and cameras.

    • The fence is actually several separation barriers designed to prevent illegal movement across the U.S.-Mexico border.

    • The barrier is located on both uninhabited and urban (e.g., San Diego, El Paso) sections of the border.

    • As of January 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had built 580 miles of fence in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Texas.

    • According to the Congressional Research Service, the cost of building and maintaining the border fence could be as much as $49 billion over the expected 25-year life span of the fence.

    NOTE: If it is not possible to play the video in class, display or pass around a still photo of the U.S.-Mexico Border Fence; photos are readily available on the Internet.

  6. Ask students to reflect on the discussion they had earlier about the two poems and the nature of walls, and to consider whether or not they think the border fence is an effective response to the issue of illegal immigration.

  7. Post the chart entitled 700-Mile Border Fence Between the United States and Mexico. Distribute a copy of the handout with the same title and a blank strip of chart paper to each student. Explain that the handout is a blog post taken from the Web site, Direct students to read the blog and then to add their own “Reader Comment” by writing their opinion on the blank strip of paper. Allow about 10 minutes for students to respond and invite them to tape their strips to the master chart as they finish writing.

  8. OPTIONAL: If the technology is accessible, have students complete this exercise online either in class or for homework. Have students visit the blog site, read the existing posts and add their comments. Print the class posts and distribute to students to read and discuss.

  9. When all of the comments have been posted, ask for several volunteers to read their opinions aloud and lead a class discussion about their responses.

  10. For homework, assign students to write a brief essay in response to the quote on the handout, Walls or Barriers? Have students read aloud their essays in class as time allows, and discuss the ways in which the U.S.-Mexico border fence creates not just a physical barrier, but also relational barriers between Mexican and U.S. citizens, immigrants and native born residents of the U.S. and other groups of people.

Part II: Analyzing Media for Anti-Immigrant Language and Themes (60 – 90 minutes)

  1. Remind students of the earlier discussion about the ways in which the border fence creates a divide between immigrants and native born residents of the U.S. Ask students for examples of other, non-physical, barriers that may deepen this divide (e.g., laws, policies, prejudices, segregation in housing and schools, language differences, etc.).

  2. If students don’t bring it up, ask them how the language we use to discuss immigration and immigrants can create a barrier—or an invisible wall—that promotes distrust of and even prejudice against immigrants.

  3. As an example, read the passage below aloud. Tell students that it is from a book by Pat Buchanan, a conservative politician and columnist, who has run for president, written bestselling books and appears regularly on mainstream news programs. Ask students to think about how Buchanan's language may deepen the divide discussed above.
  4. “Unlike the Ellis Island generations, all of whom came from Europe, those pouring in today come from countries, continents, and cultures whose peoples have never before been assimilated by a First World nation. And they are coming in far greater numbers than any nation has ever absorbed. History has never seen an invasion like this. For there are more illegal aliens in the United States today than all the Irish, Jews, and English who ever came, and the total number of immigrants here now almost equals the total number who came in the 350 years from the birth of Jamestown to the inauguration of JFK.”  1

  5. Ask students to share their reactions to the quote and chart their responses. You may want to highlight one or more of the following ideas:

    • The quote makes a distinction between immigrants from Europe and those from non-“First World nations,” and suggests that the latter may not be able to fit in here.

    • The quote describes immigration as an “invasion” and implies that the U.S. is under attack.

    • The quote characterizes some immigrants as “illegal”—and thereby illegitimate—rather than people in search of a better life.

    • The quote conveys panic about the number of immigrants in the U.S. and insinuates that this swelling population will bring ruin to the U.S.

  6. Point out to students that the debate over immigration in the U.S. has created ways of talking about and framing the issue that often dehumanize the people whose lives and fates we are debating; and that this language sometimes promotes stereotypes and prejudices against immigrants and those perceived to be “foreign.” Add that no matter what our beliefs are about specific policy issues, it is never acceptable to talk about human beings in stereotypical or demeaning ways.

  7. NOTE: The handout, Myths and Facts about Immigrants and Immigration, can be used as a reference during this part of the lesson to help students distinguish legitimate information from stereotypes and hyperbole.

  8. Tell students that they are going to spend some time analyzing articles, book excerpts, ads and other mainstream examples of commentary on the issue of immigration. Explain that the task will be for students to identify the types of language used to frame the issue, and to think about how it may promote stereotypes, bias and unnecessary fear. Use one or both of the following options to set the stage for students:

    • Show Codewords of Hate: This 7-minute video, produced by the National Council of La Raza, features an ADL Government and National Affairs representative discussing how some commentators fuel the scapegoating and demonizing of immigrants as part of the national debate over immigration reform. It offers four broad themes, and clips from a variety of news programs that demonstrate these themes.

    • Read You've Been Framed!: Individually or together as a class, read this adaptation of an article by two University of California, Berkeley linguistics professors that looks at the problematic ways in which the immigration debate has been framed by politicians and the media. It discusses five frames that contribute to anti-immigrant bias.

  9. After providing the background above, divide the class into small groups of 3 – 5 students and have each group select a recorder and a reporter. Provide each group with one copy of Media Analysis: The Framing of Immigration and content from Immigration in the Media: Sample Commentary. (If possible, provide each group with one commentary from each of the three categories—Articles/Book Excerpts, Print Ads and Public Service Announcements; if this is too much for your students to manage, limit analysis to just one or two pieces of content.)

  10. OPTIONAL: Distribute a copy of You’ve Been Framed! to each group to use as a reference.

  11. Tell groups to read/view/listen to and discuss the sample commentaries together, using the questions on the Media Analysis handout as a guide. Instruct the recorders to take notes on the handout, and tell the reporters to be prepared to share back a few main points to the whole class. Allow about 20 minutes for groups to complete this task.

  12. Reconvene the class and have each group’s reporter briefly share two or three key findings from their investigation. After all groups have shared, lead a class discussion using some of the following questions:

    • What themes or patterns did you notice across these commentaries?

    • When did it seem as though reasonable criticisms crossed the line to become unfair or extreme?

    • In what ways is language used in the media to create a barrier or divide among different groups of people?

    • How does this language lead to stereotypes and prejudice? What are other consequences of this type of language?

    • How can you protect yourself from the influences of extreme language, and how should you respond when you hear it?

Part III: Understanding the Repercussions of Anti-Immigrant Bias and Taking Action Against It (30 – 45 minutes + time for action projects)

  1. Ask students why they should be concerned about anti-immigrant language and bias in the media. Ask what the consequences are of this type of discourse, and how it relates to them and to their communities.

  2. Distribute copies of Excerpt from “Who is to Blame for Marcelo Lucero's Murder?” to each student or project the article onto a large screen. Ask for volunteers to read each paragraph aloud or have students read the article silently to themselves. Discuss some of the following questions:

    • What feelings or reactions came up for you as you listened to/read this article?

    • What do you think motivated the teenage boys to “find a Mexican” to beat up?

    • What is a scapegoat? Do you think Marcelo Lucero was a scapegoat? If so, what factors do you think triggered the teens to target him?

    • What is xenophobia? How does it relate to what happened to Marcelo, and to the issue of immigration in general?

    • What is the connection between this hate crime and the way immigration is talked about by politicians and in the media?

    • What is the connection between this hate crime and recent laws that criminalize immigration and immigrants?

  3. Comment that incidents like the murder of Marcelo Lucero can leave us feeling angry and helpless. Repeat the following line from the article:
  4. “We must all own our part in this crime… We can legislate and educate the hate away.”
    Ask students what ordinary community members can do if they feel outraged about anti-immigrant prejudice and discrimination. Chart their ideas (e.g., get informed/educated about the issues, don’t laugh at anti-immigrant jokes, join groups that promote acceptance of others, befriend/support immigrants who are new to the community, challenge unjust laws, etc.).

  5. Suggest that one way to get involved is to challenge unfair laws and support good ones. Point out that the author of the article discusses whether “elected officials, through legislation and rhetoric, have created a xenophobic climate that breeds hate crimes.” Ask students if they are aware of any laws related to immigration, and what community members can do to challenge or support a law. Add their ideas to the chart.

  6. Review some of the information from Taking Action on Immigration Issues with students, and ask them to focus on one law that they want to learn more about and take action for or against. Either in class or for homework, have students do some research on the law and identify ways to take action (e.g., writing letters to local representatives, circulating petitions, organizing a rally or informational event, writing an editorial, fundraising, etc.) Work with students to implement one or more of their ideas.
  7. NOTE: Consult the Web sites listed on the Taking Action on Immigration Issues handout to ensure that the information on the handout pertaining to immigration laws and policies is current, and to receive additional information that is pertinent to this activity.

1 Buchanan, Patrick J. 2007. Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed are Tearing America Apart. New York: St. Martin's Press, page 9.

Challenging Anti-Immigrant Bias
  • In This Edition
Lesson Plans
  • Elementary Level Lesson (3-5)
  • Middle Level Lesson (6-9)
  • Secondary Level Lesson (10-12)
  • Entire Unit (.pdf format)
Additional Resources
  • Myths and Facts about Immigrants and Immigration (.pdf format)
  • Discussion Guide for “A Nation of Immigrants”
  • Bibliography of Resources on Immigration (.pdf format)
  • ADL Immigration Reports and Resources
Additional ADL Programs & Resources
  • A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children Grades K-6
  • A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources
  • Holocaust Awareness and Remembrance® Institute
  • Combating Anti-Semitism
  • Making Diversity Count Online Professional Development Program
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