Should High Schools Incorporate Immigration Studies?

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Princeton Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta writes in today’s New York Times that we need to incorporate immigration studies into high school curricula. Professor Peralta writes that there “is plenty of exposure to the idea of immigration in the news, but not a lot of context for historical facts and trends, especially in high school education.” Unfortunately, immigration history and social science research on modern immigrants are given short shrift in the schools.

Peralta argues that “at a minimum we must raise the level of the conversation by equipping students with the tools to critique and contextualize characterizations of immigrants on both sides of the partisan divide.”

In my own public presentations on immigration issues, I find that most of my listeners know very little about the current immigration system, its rigorous requirements, or its historical origins. Peralta says that this ignorance of basic facts needs to be addressed right away:

Understanding the logistics of immigration is a good place to start: How did the U.S. immigration system come into being, and how have its procedures changed over the past century and a half? How exactly do prospective immigrants to the U.S. obtain — or fail to obtain — authorization to enter? How do visas work, and why are there so many different visa categories? How long does it take and how expensive can it be to secure an immigrant visa?

The ethics of immigration and immigration restriction should also be considered by students as well as the place of immigration in a democratic society, according to Peralta. He says students need to discuss whether “current immigrant law [is] in harmony with commonly held notions of justice and fair treatment?” He says the discussion should be placed in a global context with the fundamental question; “How should liberal democracies decide whom to welcome and whom to exclude?”


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