Debating the Actual Threat Posed by Undocumented Immigrants

March 17, 2017 Les Lynn Argument and Literacy, Argumentative Writing, Resources, The Debatifier


The Debatifier has taken a close look at the legal immigration issue and its complexities, illustrating how the Micro-Macro Debates format can help students unpack and make sense of such a dense and multi-faceted issue, in part one and part two of an extended post.  This post will help teachers take an argument-centered approach to the undocumented immigrant issue.

The estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and immigration enforcement porous enough to allow the number to grow that large, have elicited a great deal of political discussion and societal debate over the past 40 years, though perhaps never so pointedly as in the 2016 presidential campaign.  This argument-centered project crystallizes the question at the heart of this national debate:

Do Illegal immigrants pose a significant threat to American citizens?

Argument-Centered Education has been working with partner schools on this project, using the Table Debates format.  The duration has been two weeks, so 10 50-minute social studies or U.S. history class periods.  Our partnership collaborations are typically guided by an implementation plan, as has been this project.

Click here to download the Undocumented Immigrants Table Debates Implementation Plan.

Research Resources

We use short videos at the front of this project, which students annotate (using our Video Annotator).  These videos build student engagement with the issue — though there has generally been high levels of engagement right from the start — but they also build background knowledge, contextual understanding, and the start of an evidence set for use when assembling arguments.

This video is from the educational video company TopTenzList and, in a neutral and very factual way, enumerates what it believes would be the ten most consequential effects of removing all 11 million undocumented immigrants from our country.

Its’ important to note that the debatable issue for this project is not should all undocumented immigrants be removed from the U.S.  Rather, it is whether undocumented immigrants pose a significant threat to American citizens.  So, the cost of removing them is not, itself, an argument on this issue, but the video is very illuminating on whether and in what way undocumented immigrants are a boon or a burden to this country.

Another set of videos make more partial arguments that undocumented immigrants are a serious threat to American citizens.  One combines an MSNBC interview with then-candidate Donald Trump with a CNN interview with Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski.

A third small set of videos makes arguments that undocumented immigrants are not a serious threat to Americans, and are actually of great benefit to the U.S.  One of these is a video that Robert Reich, professor of economics at the University of California Berkeley, made for

Teachers of course also use a text-weighted Media List, which students research and which provides more evidence for arguments and counter-arguments they build and make in the Table Debates.

Click here to download the Undocumented Immigrants Media List.

Students at one partner school of ours generated these sophisticated and sturdy argumentative claims on the issue, which they builtou t with evidence and took with them into the two sets of Table Debates conducted in this project.  You can use these as argumentative claim models or supplements with your use of this project.

Affirmative/Undocumented Immigrants Pose a Significant Threat to American Citizens

Undocumented immigrants commit crimes, especially murder, at higher rates than American citizens do. 

Undocumented immigrants are not above the law and shouldn’t be treated as if they are. 

Terrorists can threaten our country as undocumented immigrants. 

Social services are burdened by having to cover undocumented immigrants. 

Undocumented immigrants lower wages and take jobs from American citizens. 

Negative/Illegal Immigrants Do Not Pose a Significant Threat to American Citizens

Immigrants are hard-working and productive and they expand the American economy. 

Most undocumented immigrants have been in the U.S. for many years, have families, and are part of their communities.

The threat of terrorism is not related to immigration. 

Key sectors in the American economy depend on undocumented immigrants. 

Undocumented immigrants do not lower wages or take jobs from American citizens. 


The issue of undocumented immigration was put at the center of our civic and political life by the 2016 presidential election.  It was already an under-discussed (perhaps) but personally very crucial issue in the lives of literally millions of students in American cities, like Chicago.  It is in some ways the perfect example of the kind of crucial political and social issue that our students should be learning about through debate and argumentation in their 6th – 12th grade social students, civics, history, even English classes.

If you want our support in your school’s implementation of an argument-centered project on this issue, contact us at 312-646-2180 or  And if you use our resources on your own, please let us know how it went.