Immigration Study Guide: Week One
Faith Development, Immigration

Understanding the Causes of (Im)migration

Please note that the workshop outline depends on participants having read the materials for week one before the course begins. Facilitators should find a way to get materials to course participants beforehand.


  • To introduce participants to each other and get a sense of what they bring with them to the discussion and what they hope to gain
  • To engage participants with the personal reasons for why people immigrate
  • To begin to think about how our national policy should treat different kinds of immigrants

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the terminology that is used to describe different kinds of people who migrate and their legal meaning
  • Understanding how difficult it is to immigrate to the country legally and the difference between “illegal” and “criminal”
  • Understanding of the wide scope of the reasons for immigration.

Handouts for Week One

  1. Course Outline
  2. 1.1 Definition of Terms (PDF, 5 pages)
  3. 1.2 Three Stories (PDF, 8 pages)
  4. 1.3 The Legalities of Legal Immigration (PDF)
  5. 1.4 What Part of Legal Immigration Don’t You Understand? (PDF)
  6. 1.5 What Part of Illegal Don’t You Understand? (PDF)


  1. 10” Welcome
  2. 5” Chalice Lighting and Opening Reading
  3. 20” Activity 1: Sharing Our Stories
  4. 20” Activity 2: Causes of Migration
  5. 20” Activity 3: In Their Shoes
  6. 10” Debrief
  7. 5” Closing


Introducing the facilitator(s)

Overview of the course and logistics

A reminder that we are here to learn from each other and explore the topic of immigration, and that due to different life experiences, people will come at the issue from different perspectives. This may be frustrating at times but we are called by covenant to assume good faith. While the chalice is lit, let us hold its flame as a reminder of that covenant. (Facilitators are encouraged to avail themselves of the resources on compassionate communication before the beginning of the course.)

Chalice Lighting and Opening Reading

The first ten lines of The Lesson, by W. H. Auden

Activity 1: Sharing Our Stories

Participants get to know each other by sharing their names and a personal story a story about why are they interested in the issue of immigration. If possible, facilitators should model by sharing their story first—perhaps someone they know who is an immigrant, perhaps they have been impacted either positively or negatively. Try to keep it personal and avoid expounding on general opinions (either pro or con).

Activity 2: Causes of Migration

Based on handouts 1.1 and 1.2, address the following questions:

  • What are the different reasons for why people migrate/immigrate?

    (Note: Facilitators should make sure that the following reasons are brought up by the group, and if not, then to direct discussion to the areas in the handouts where they are addressed: political turmoil, persecution, environmental crises, economic need and family reunification. This list is not intended to be exhaustive—your group may come up with additional reasons!)
  • What is the difference between a refugee, a migrant, and an immigrant?
  • Should any of these classes be given automatic entry into the U.S.?
  • If some should while others should not, what is the basis for the distinction?
  • If there is time remaining, facilitators can ask these questions as well:

    • What kind of rights do people have when they are forced to migrate?
    • What kind of rights do people have when they migrate voluntarily?

Activity 3: In Their Shoes

Before class, facilitators create role-playing profiles on index cards for each registered participant. Each profile will list:

  • Name and country of origin
  • the reason for their wanting to immigrate
  • whether they have a job prospect in the U.S.
  • whether they have a family sponsor in the U.S.
  • if the family sponsor is a partner, is the partner same-sex?

For the session, hand out one index card to each person. Have participants break into small groups, and using the charts provided in handouts 1.3 and 1.4, determine their likelihood of permission to enter legally into the U.S. as a permanent resident, or to work. Allow enough time to bring the small groups back to share their findings. If the overall group is small, facilitators can just do the exercise with the overall group.

Some Sample Profiles:

No. 1
Name: Iryna Fedulova
Country of origin: Russia
Reason: Iryna wants to work in the U.S. where she believes she’ll have a better life than in Russia
Job?: She is currently a waitress and has does not have an employer in the U.S.
Family?: She has a cousin in the U.S.

No. 2
Name: Joon Kim
Country of origin: South Korea
Reason: Joon’s father emigrated to the U.S. without his family in order to work for a high-tech security firm that has contracts with the U.S. government. Dad now wants to bring his family, including his 14 yr old son Joon, to join him in the U.S.
Job?: not applicable.
Family?: Father, who is a permanent legal resident.


Participants are invited to share anything that strongly moved them during the session.

Closing Reading and Extinguishing the Chalice

As a religious people who affirm human compassion, advocate for human rights, and seek justice, we must never make the mistake of confusing a legal right with a moral right. The forced removal of Native Americans from their land and onto reservations was legal. The importation and sale of African slaves was legal. South African apartheid was legal. The confiscation of the property of Jews at the beginning of the Nazi regime was legal. The Spanish Inquisition was legal. Crucifying Jesus was legal. Burning Michael Servetus at the stake for his nitarian theology was legal. The powerful have always used the legal system to oppress the powerless.

It is true that as citizens we should respect the rule of law. More importantly, though, our duty is to create laws founded on our highest sense of justice, equity, and compassion. Loud voices urge us to choose fear, denial, reactionary nationalism, and racism. We must resist and choose the better way urged by every major religious tradition. We must choose the path of compassion and hope. We must choose a path that is founded on the recognition that we are connected, that we are all in this together.

—Rev. Peter Morales, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President, excerpted from his essay in “A People So Bold”

Homework for Week Two

2.1 A Native American Perspective On Immigration
2.2 Story from the Tohono Odham Nation (PDF)
2.3 A Very Brief Primer on U.S.Mexican History (PDF)
2.4 Ten Anti-Immigrant Quotes That Sound...Familiar (PDF)
2.5 White By Law—Requirement for Becoming “American”(PDF)

Ask the class to come next week prepared to share when their families (whether it was them, their parents or fore-parents) first came to the United States. Encourage them to bring pictures, if they have them. (And of course facilitators should do the same.)

Further Study

To explore the topics covered in this session, as well as related topics, see the resources listed in section II.A (PDF, 9 pages) of the study guide.

For more information contact

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