Challenging Civic Issues in the Age of Coronavirus
Late last night, a new wave of COVID-19 connected immigration news began to crash to shore. On Twitter, President Trump wrote, "In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to suspend immigration into the United States temporarily!" I read the news just after finishing the final episode of HBO’s “The Plot Against America,” which portrays an America in which Charles Lindbergh defeated Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. The irony of all of this—on the eve of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day—is not lost on me. The connections and distinctions between past and present, fiction and nonfiction, were swirling in my head.
At stake is a fundamental vision of this country. The debate about our national identity is one we have been having on and off since the colonists first came to these shores, claiming native land for themselves. We have dual narratives of immigration in our history: one that welcomes newcomers and celebrates our immigrant heritage, and the other, rarely spoken out loud, of exclusion, restriction and prejudice. Most of us haven’t been taught to think about these things, never mind the relationship between immigration and the civic life of a nation. In the COVID-19 crisis, these issues are coming together in ways we must not ignore. If I had a classroom right now, even a virtual one, this is what I would be teaching about.
Identifying Four Critical Civic Issues
The current climate resurrects four fundamental civic issues that have plagued our history. I describe them below along with questions that all of us, but particularly teachers and their students, should be respectfully talking about. If we do not confront these issues and take up the task of finding answers, the future of our democracy is at stake.
Scapegoating: In the early days of the crisis, many, including public officials, sought to explain the spread of the virus. To do that, they did what humans often do; they blamed someone or something else. China. Asians. Jews. As educators, we heard those stories even before schools closed. Asian students in many schools reported bullying, being called “corona” or blamed by students and sometimes even adults for the spread of the virus. What is the most effective way to respond? What are the risks of speaking out or intervening? What are the risks of not speaking out and not intervening? How is the anti-Asian and anti-immigrant scapegoating today similar to and different from other periods in our history?
Civic Issues Lesson from Our Share My Lesson Collection:
Exclusion: President Trump seeks to “suspend immigration” and pause issuing green cards (with no end date) in response to COVID-19. Is this an appropriate response? In a global health crisis, what is our responsibility to people on the move? The president wants to suspend immigration in this crisis. Is it ever morally, legally and ethically right to suspend our immigration laws and treaty obligations? If so, under what conditions and for how long? How should we weigh the president’s past rhetoric about immigrants and proposals about immigration as we consider our responses? How should our responses be informed by the historic responses to immigrants and those perceived as outsiders?
Civic Issues Resources from Our Share My Lesson Collection:
Legal, Moral and Ethical Questions of Belonging: About 25 percent of the healthcare workforce in this country are immigrants; many more are the children of immigrants. During the COVID-19 crisis, many of these workers are putting their lives on the line for the health and safety of others. Do we owe them more than a slogan or a thank-you? According to the New American Economy, a bipartisan nonprofit research and advocacy group, 62,000 healthcare workers are eligible for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals); another 280,000 are undocumented. Should they be offered legal protection for their service? What about citizenship? As this crisis unfolds, the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on DACA in the coming months. What are our moral and ethical obligations to those putting their lives on the line for our safety?
Civic Issues Lesson from Our Share My Lesson Collection:
Citizenship and Voting Rights: The cancellation of citizenship naturalization ceremonies is adding a roadblock preventing the naturalization of more than 440,000 new U.S. citizens. If the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services does not act soon, these people will not be able to vote in the next election. According to NBC, “When USCIS shut down March 18, an estimated 126,000 people had completed their citizenship process and were scheduled to take the oath to become citizens.” Should people be granted the rights of citizenship if they have passed their test, but cannot gather in public to take an oath? What is the role of a naturalization ceremony? Would anything be lost if the ceremonies were to take place online?
Civic Issues Resource from Our Share My Lesson Collection:
These are pressing civic issues. At a time when many educators are tasked with adapting to teaching in a digital environment, we should take the opportunity to reflect on our students’ visions of their shared future.
Re-imagining Migration is here to help. During the COVID-19 crisis, we have been offering free professional learning experiences on our own and through Share My Lesson, and we will be offering an online seminar this summer as part of our fellowship program. We have also developed a learning arc to help you develop curriculum and lessons exploring human migration. The learning arc is complemented by a collection of lessons and curated resources for K-12 classrooms; they too can be found on our website and on Share My Lesson. In addition, we offer thinking routines to facilitate engaging learning experiences aimed at nurturing the critical dispositions that we all need for living in an age of migration.
When the threat of COVID-19 recedes, these challenges will not go away. Instead, they will manifest themselves in a new form. To prepare ourselves, we are committed to helping educators prepare our rising generation of civic leaders to understand the centrality of migration to our communities, country and the world.
In the comments below, let us how you are using (im)migration resources in your teaching practice. How are you helping students to connect stories of (im)migration to civics, history and literature?
- View the original post from Re-imagining Migration here.
- Visit Re-Imagining Migration's Share My Lesson partner page here.
- Sign up for a free, on-demand webinar with Re-imagining Migration exploring voices of migration.
- Read more about civic issues in our Foundations of Democracy collection.