Teaching About Undocumented Migration


Undocumented migration refers to the migration of individuals into a country while violating the immigration laws of that country. Migrants tend to leave their homeland for a variety of reasons, which can be categorized as economic, social, political, or environmental. One of the most popular reasons for immigration to the United States, for example, has to do with what is known as the American Dream. Between religious freedom, attractive job opportunities, gender equality, and political rights, migrants often travel to the U.S. for a better life. Because of the difficult and lengthy process to become a U.S. citizen, some believe it to be a better alternative to enter the country illegally. Undocumented migration is an important topic for students to understand, and by learning about the subject, they will not only be able to comprehend the controversy that often surrounds immigration and how the government should deal with undocumented immigrants but also have a bit of empathy for those who are facing the struggles of being undocumented.


Because undocumented migration is such a sensitive issue, there are many resources available online for helping students better understand the subject. Take a look through the resources below and find those that would be best suited towards your classroom!

Lesson Plans

  1. Recognizing the Undocumented: Teaching Tolerance provides a lesson which features activities that will “make students aware of the roles that undocumented immigrants play in the harvest and processing of food and other necessary products and help them understand the status of and choices that face undocumented workers in our country.” This lesson plan, which is geared towards students in grades 6-8 and 9-12, includes objectives, essential questions, materials, a glossary, and three different activities. By the end of these activities, students will have a better understanding of how undocumented immigrants contribute to the United States economy and the circumstances around their work.
  2. Understanding Immigration Reform: PBS offers a two-part lesson plan and an extension activity which should take a total of three 90-minute or five 50-minute class periods. Included in this plan are objectives, background knowledge, and a detailed procedure outlining how educators should go about teaching their students the facts about illegal immigration and immigration reform along with how different groups of people view immigration and reforming the current laws.
  3. The Debate on Dreamers – A Lesson Plan for Teaching About DACA: The New York Times put together a lesson plan teaching about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). This lesson plan reviews the program which provides “Dreamers,” young adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, with certain temporary protections. Students will learn about the immigrants who have been affected by this policy and the proposals that are being debated on by Congress. A warm-up activity, an article and follow-up questions, an activity (which calls for students to analyze and categorize quotes about the DACA), and a follow-up activity, which includes relevant resources to help students do additional research on the DACA.
  4. Education Resources on Immigration, Immigrants and Anti-Immigrant Bias: The ADL provides educators with resources (lesson plans, tools and strategies, fact sheets, children’s literature, articles, reports, etc.) on immigration, immigrants, and anti-immigrant bias. These educational resources cover a variety of different topics regarding immigration, including conditions in detention centers at the U.S. border, what should be done about DACA, family separations and detentions at the border, and more. This resource will be a great one when you are looking for materials to provide your students with!


  1. The U.S. Immigration Debate: The Council on Foreign Relations has published an article which gives information on the immigrant population in the United States. The piece explains who the imigration population is comprised of, both legal and undocumented immigration, Americans’ views on immigration, immigrations reforms that Congress has considered in recent years, the actions that the Obama administration took regarding immigration, and other current issues related to U.S. immigration. For educators who want their students to learn the basic facts about immigration in the United States and how the federal and state governments have attempted to handle the issue of illegal immigration.

Informational Sites

  1. Undocumented Migration Project: The Undocumented Migration Project is “a long-term anthropological analysis of clandestine border crossings between Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona that uses ethnography, archaeology, visual anthropology, and forensic science to understand this violent social process and raise awareness through research, education, and public outreach.” The goal of this organization is to collect data on the social process of border crossing, and students may be able to learn a lot from taking a look at their website.
  2. How Many Undocumented Immigrants Are in the United States and Who Are They?: Brookings provides detailed information on how we count people who are here in the United States illegally, what the population of undocumented migrants actually is, who the undocumented are, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and what the 2020 candidates are saying about how the federal government should handle undocumented immigrants. This resource will give students an abundance of information on undocumented migration in the U.S.!
  3. What’s the State of Illegal Immigration in U.S.?: BBC has published a brief article on the state of illegal immigration in the United States. Students will learn that the total undocumented population is currently dropping with Mexicans no longer being the majority. In addition, by the end of the article, students will understand where undocumented immigrants are living and how the population has decreased or increased in particular states over time. 


Teaching students about undocumented migration is very important, but it can be a very touchy issue for obvious reasons. Possibly the most important part of this process will be helping students to view this type of migration on a personal level because at the end of the day, whether an individual views undocumented migration as right or wrong or somewhere in between, the people involved are human. They are humans who left their birthplaces because their destination offered a better, safer life. The resources above in combination with your personal teaching skills will help your students to grasp this concept, form their own opinions about it, and view it with a certain level of empathy.

Additional Resources

  1. Teaching Current Events – Global Immigration: Facing History and Ourselves provides resources teaching about current events regarding global immigration. Some of the topics discussed include different perspectives on migration detention, reasons for why people migrate, the continued debate over immigration, and the experiences of refugees.
  2. Legal Rights of Undocumented Immigrants: This lesson plan will teach students about the legal rights of undocumented immigrants because they are often overlooked. The plan includes an opening quick write prompt, objectives, essential questions, key vocabulary, direct instructions, an assessment and reflection, homework, and common core standards.
  3. Immigration: Teaching Tolerance has compiled a multitude of resources teaching about immigration. There are specific resources on undocumented migration, such as the magazine feature Walking Undocumented, but there are also many helpful resources on immigration in general. In order for students to understand undocumented migration on a deeper level, especially how illegal immigrants and Americans are affected by this type of migration, they need to be able to understand immigration as a whole, whether it is legal or not, and these resources will help them to do just that!