Family Ties

The Southern Poverty Law Center published “Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry,” a report that explores and personalizes immigration issues. Based on interviews with 150 undocumented female workers, “Injustice on Our Plates” has an accompanying teacher’s guide that includes seven theme-based lessons. The lessons are designed to encourage students to learn from the women’s first-hand accounts and to consider whether basic human rights are dependent on legal status. “Family Ties” is the fourth of the seven thematic lessons in the “Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry” teacher's guide. In this lesson, students analyze how media reports about undocumented workers shape people’s perceptions. Students analyze mass media to uncover the attitudes and assumptions that shape people’s perceptions and our understanding of important human rights and policy issues.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to

  • Critically evaluate media messages on the issue of immigration and families
  • Illustrate a narrative
  • Prepare and conduct an interview and a debate
Essential Questions
  • How does undocumented status affect the day-to-day lives of immigrant families?
  • In what ways are women particularly affected by immigration policies?
  • Enduring Understandings
    • Immigrants with undocumented status may be exploited in their workplaces, and live in fear of job-site immigration raids and deportations.
    • Many undocumented women are motivated by the desire to make life better for their children. Some give birth to children who are U.S. citizens while in the United States—complicating their own undocumented status.


raid [ rayd ] (noun) a search without warning

deportation [ dee-pohr-tay-shun ] (noun) the act of removing a person to another country

undocumented [ uhn-dock-yoo-mehn-tehd ] (adjective) lacking proper immigration or working papers


Suggested Procedure

Throughout American history, immigration rules and policies have shifted and evolved. There have been changes that determine both who is admitted to the United States and how easily one can become a citizen. That is equally true today. A complex formula leaves undocumented immigrants without many legal options—resulting in workplace raids and deportation, split families and a cut in economic lifelines.

1. As a class, read Reading 1: Family Life Complicated by Vulnerable Status. Based on the reading, discuss the ways in which illegal status can affect the family life of immigrants to the United States.

2. Now, view the documentary, “Guatemala: In the Shadow of the Raid.” The 16-minute film, from the PBS television show “Frontline,” is available online. It chronicles the aftermath of the May 2008 raid of the Agriprocessors, Inc. meat plant in Postville, Iowa—one of the largest raids in U.S. history. As you view the film, ask students to take notes on the effects of the raid on the lives of the workers. Instruct them to refer to the handout, Family Ties: Guatemala and Iowa, as they watch.

3. As a class, discuss how “Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry” and the Frontline producers constructed their work to shape how you perceive the problems these families face. For instance, which elements of the written piece are most convincing? (Note: Students might point out the use of quotes from primary sources, the use of statistics and specific information about the risks and hardships faced by children.) What elements do the film’s producers use to connect with viewers? (Note: Students might cite the use of immigrants’ own faces and voices, rather than those of actors; the filming in immigrants’ native countries; a narrative that follows specific people through a bureaucratic process; and even the music used throughout.)

4. In pairs or small groups, have students design a series of storyboards for a video that will include the information in Reading 1. First, direct students to cut each paragraph out of the reading. Next, they should organize the paragraphs in the order in which they want to convey information and images. Ask: “To capture the attention of your viewers, what would you want to show first? What information do you think is most important? What music or background sounds might add to that information?”

5. Have students share their storyboards with the rest of the class. Ask: “How do your approaches differ? Why might that be the case?” Tell them they must offer information to support their positions.


In Their Own Words

1. In this part of the lesson, encourage students to learn their own family’s stories and history. Share with the class that working women in America have long struggled with the balance between work and family life. While some have the resources to care for their children and also advance in their chosen careers, others need to make tough choices. Ask students to schedule time for an interview with their mothers, grandmothers or other female relatives or community members who have worked outside the home. Have students draft questions that will help them learn about when and where she has worked and any obstacles she may have faced.

2. Ask students who feel comfortable sharing their interviews to read them aloud to the class. Then hold a class discussion. Ask: “What patterns do you notice among the interviews? What differences do you see?”

3. Now, compare the answers in their interviews with the quotes in Reading 1. Ask: “What hopes, dreams and values are shared among the women? How do their realities differ? What conclusions can you draw?”


The DREAM Act: Past to Present

1. In this part of the lesson, students will learn about the DREAM Act, then conduct a debate about it. Explain to the class that the DREAM Act—the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act—was introduced in 2001 to deal with undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children, but that Congress has never passed it. Have students take notes as they learn more about the bill at the following sites:

National Immigration Law Center on myths about the Dream Act

Five Facts You Need to Know About the Dream Act

2. Divide your class into two teams. Within each team, have students share what they’ve learned about the Dream Act from their research. Ask: “What was the bill designed to do? Who drafted the legislation? Who would qualify? How would they qualify? In what ways might it benefit the United States? In what ways might it cost the country? What is the status of the bill for the future?”

3. Now, assign each team one of the following positions:

  • The Dream Act would be good for the United States.
  • The Dream Act would be damaging to the United States.


Have students research facts and opinions to support their team’s position in a debate. Then, have them research the stances the other team will likely take and think of ways to counter them.

Explore national tournament rules of debate and decide on the rules of your class debate. For instance, you might want an impartial observer, such as a school administrator, to declare a winner.

4. It’s time to debate. Remind students to use facts from their research rather than their opinions. After the debate, have the teams work together to reach an understanding through compromise. Have each team write a brief summary of its outcome.

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS RI.1, RI.3, RI.5, RI.6, RI.7, RI.8, RI.9, W.1, W.2, W.4, W.7, W.8, SL.1, SL.2, SL.3, RH. 3, RH.4, RH. 8, RH.9


Extension Activity

Do Something

Ask students to write a letter to their representatives in Congress outlining their views of the DREAM Act. Have students use facts as well as any relevant personal or anecdotal information to support their positions.

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