Lesson Plans

U.S. Im/migration and Criminalization in the West from the 1930s to 1950s

Subject Area: Migration, Immigration, Constructions of Race, Carceral history

Author: Carie Rael, PhD student in History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

Main Argument of lesson

This lesson traces the racialization of im/migration that resulted in the criminalization of immigrants along the U.S/ Mexican border that increased the expansion of deportable offenses, deportations, and incarceration of immigration related crimes. The focus of this lesson is on im/migration in the West, predominantly with Latinx people in the U.S./Mexico borderlands due to it becoming the central focus point for U.S. federal immigration policies in the 1930s.

Focusing on the West allows students to understand im/migration beyond the East Coast and complicates the historical understanding of immigration by examining how race operated along the U.S./Mexico borderlands. Additionally, it adds dimension to the discussion of race and migration. The lesson puts the current state of affairs surrounding Latinx immigration into historical context by trying to answer how “immigration-related crimes today constitute the leading cause of imprisonment in the federal penal system” according to Torrie Hester. While this lesson focuses primarily upon im/migration from the 1930s-1950s, it is important to push the timeline in order to provide essential context. In this lesson, students will juxtapose federal policies of immigration with oral histories from Latinx migrants during key points in immigration history in order to place im/migrants at the center of this history. Ultimately, this lesson gets students to ask how did im/migration become racialized and criminalized along the U.S./ Mexico border and what impact has this had historically on the expansion of the carceral state?

Download the full lesson.