Acting Locally

In these activities, students will review some of the problems faced by women who enter the United States without legal documentation, research programs in their state that address these problems and identify ways they can help.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Identify problems that undocumented women workers face
  • Brainstorm possible actions they can take to change these women’s situations
  • Explore how government and non-government agencies have helped shape and implement policies to improve the situation of undocumented workers
  • Develop a plan for taking action locally to change the situation of undocumented women workers
Essential Questions
  • What problems do undocumented women workers face?
  • How can people help improve the situations of undocumented immigrant workers?
  • How have government and private agencies attempted to help undocumented workers?


Early in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center interviewed 150 immigrant women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin American nations. All of them thought they had realized their dreams—to come to the United States, where they could find work and support their families. They landed jobs in fields and factories, where food is harvested and processed before turning up on American tables. But they also found themselves exploited in the workplace, making poverty-level wages and suffering from grim conditions and humiliating situations that were impossible to report because of their undocumented status. Their stories are featured in the SPLC report, Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women In the U.S. Food Industry.

The problems that undocumented workers face can seem overwhelming to students, who might think, “The problems are so big; what difference can I possibly make?” Theme 7, Acting Locally, will help students recognize that they have the power to help improve the situation of undocumented workers by taking action in their own communities. In these activities, students will review some of the problems faced by women who enter the United States without legal documentation, research programs in their state that address these problems and identify ways they can help.

This is the last of seven lessons from the teacher's guide by Teaching Tolerance, also available as a PDF.



harassment [ huh-rass-mehnt ] (noun) behavior meant to be disturbing or threatening

prosperity [ pro-sper-uh-tee ] (noun) good fortune; financial wellbeing

discrimination [ dih-skrim-uh-nay-shuhn ] (noun) unfair treatment of someone based on their membership in a group defined by race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation or other factors


Taking Action

1. Before you can think about taking action to address the problems of undocumented women workers, you need to know more about those problems. Begin your work on this lesson by reading The Experiences of Undocumented Workers(Note: You may want to divide the reading so that everyone reads the introductory paragraph, and then half the students read the segment about Yazmin while the other half read the segment about Margot, Carina and Catalina.)

2. Divide into three groups. Within your group, choose one of the following central problems that you’ve read about: 1) moving to follow crops; 2) poor and dangerous work conditions; and 3) wage theft. (Note: Make sure that student groups are covering all three of the problems.) With your group, use the graphic organizer to think more deeply about the difficulties that the women face. For example, Margot and her family don’t live in one place year-round; instead, they follow the crops so that they’ll have work during the entire year. In the center of the web, write “Follow the crops.” In the outer circles, put problems that might arise as a consequence of following the crops. One circle might say “Kids can’t stay in school.” Another might say “Live in migrant housing.” When your group finishes its web, share it with the class.

3. Now with your group, study your graphic organizer and zero in on one problem that you would like to address. First, find out anything you can about the specifics of the problem in your state. For example, are there a large number of children of immigrant laborers who can’t attend school? Is there daycare available for women workers who have small children? Gather information about the problem in your community or state. 

4. See what programs, if any, already address the problem in your community or state. How do people intervene to improve the lives of immigrant farm workers there? What organizations or programs serve them? You may find, for example, that there are private organizations or state programs that provide healthcare to migrant farm workers. Read about one of them. Answer these questions about the organization/program: What does the organization/program do? How long has it been in operation? Which problem or problems that you identified in the web does the organization/program address? How does it address the problem(s)? How does the group/program define the population it serves? Does it distinguish between agricultural workers who are in the country legally and those who are not? How do the workers respond to the services provided? Present your findings to the class so that everyone gets a sense of the breadth of both problems and actions that address them.

5. With your group, discuss what you can do about the problem. That might mean contributing in some way to a program/group that’s already working on it. For example, maybe you could volunteer to help in some way, create a community service-learning project that you and your classmates could participate in, or hold a fund-raiser to help the group continue its work. Or, if you see that there is a need for a particular service that isn’t being addressed (e.g., daycare), discuss how you might help get that service provided. You might, for example, make a presentation to a community or state agency that works with farm labor or immigration. The presentation should describe the conditions that make the service necessary and offer ideas about how that service can be provided.

6. As a class, sum up what you’ve learned by putting together into one presentation what each group has discovered about problems undocumented immigrant workers face and real and possible solutions to those problems.


In Their Own Words

Think about what you have learned about the experiences of undocumented workers, particularly in your community or state. Write a journal entry or school newspaper editorial that expresses how you feel about the contribution of undocumented workers and the need for changing one or more of their circumstances.


Past to Present

Government and private agencies have taken action over the years to improve the situation of undocumented immigrant workers. Research one of these organizations to find out what it has done and continues to do. Share your findings with the class.

The Agencies


Questions to Guide Your Research

  • What is the name of the organization you are researching?
  • Is it part of the government or a private agency?
  • What is its position on undocumented immigrants?
  • What actions has it taken on behalf of undocumented immigrants? When did it take those actions? What were the results?
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