Different Perspectives on Migrant Detention | Facing History & Ourselves
Undocumented immigrant families walk from a bus depot to a respite center
Current Event

Different Perspectives on Migrant Detention

In this mini-lesson, students gain insight into migration and the systems surrounding migrant detention by considering the perspectives⁠ of migrants, an immigration lawyer and advocate, a border guard, and an immigration judge.


Last Updated:

At a Glance

mini-lesson copy


English — US


  • History
  • Social Studies


  • Global Migration & Immigration


About This Mini-Lesson

Over the last few years, controversy has surrounded the conditions in many of the detention facilities where migrants are being held along the United States’ southern border. The increased number of migrants arriving at the US–Mexico border—in combination with changes to US immigration policy that keep more migrants in detention while they wait for court dates—has led to overcrowding at many border detention facilities, which in turn has led to a surge of COVID-19 infections among people detained in these facilities. While conditions among facilities vary, advocates, government officials, and migrants have reported inhumane conditions in many detention centers.

This mini-lesson is designed to give students insight into migration and the systems surrounding migrant detention through different perspectives⁠—those of migrants who were detained, an immigration lawyer and advocate, a border guard, and an immigration judge. Examining this issue through different perspectives can help students gain important insight into the situation in detention centers and engage in ethical reflection about the treatment of migrants at the border. However, descriptions of the conditions in some facilities are disturbing, and it is important to review materials to determine if they are appropriate for your students.

This mini-lesson is designed to be adaptable. You can use the activities in sequence or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 2 activities 
  • Student-facing slides 
  • 1 handout
  • Recommended articles and videos for exploring this topic

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this text set, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

The articles used in this mini-lesson describe conditions in immigrant detention facilities in 2019 during the Trump administration. Immigration policy has shifted under the Biden administration, but many of the same detention facilities are in use and critics continue to point to overcrowded and inhumane conditions. The article Border Challenges Dominate, But Biden’s First 100 Days Mark Notable Under-the-Radar Immigration Accomplishments from the Migration Policy Institute describes which immigration policies have changed under Biden and which have remained in place. 

We suggest beginning with our Teaching Idea Why Do People Migrate? in order to provide students an opportunity to first reflect on the stories of migrants, including the circumstances surrounding their decisions to seek new homes. To provide your students with context on terms around migration, such as migrantrefugee, and asylum seeker, share our Explainer on Migration with your students. 

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In



Begin by asking students to reflect—individually or as a class—on what they already know about migration at the US–Mexico border and migrant detention and what emotions they feel about this topic. 

Then, ask your students to read the Texas Tribune article No Toothbrushes or Showers, Kids Coughing All Night: Migrants Describe Conditions inside Border Facilities. (Note: If you wish to shorten the article, you can stop reading before the paragraph that begins, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes Border Patrol, said it could not comment . . . ”)

Ask your students:

  • What conditions do migrants describe seeing in different detention facilities?
  • Did you learn anything that reinforced, extended, or challenged what you already knew about migrant detention? 

In this activity, students learn about migration and migrant detention centers along the US–Mexico border through three different perspectives:

Place students into three groups, and give each group a different perspective to read. Ask students to draw a Character Map for the person they are focusing on. Students can draw the character map on their own piece of paper or on the Character Map handout. They should draw an outline of a person and answer the following questions as a group next to their drawings:

  • Head: How does the person in your article think about their professional responsibilities?
  • Mouth: What does this person say about their job? Why do they say about immigration?
  • Heart: How do you think this person feels about their job? What ethical dilemmas do they face at work?
  • Hands: What actions have they taken or do they want to take when it comes to immigration?
  • Feet: What options might this person have to make sure migrants are being treated humanely? What are they choosing to do?

After students finish their character maps, ask them to form new groups with at least one person who read each piece. Students should use their character maps to introduce their article and discuss it with their new group.
End with an individual reflection. Students can respond in their journals, using the following questions as a guide:

  • What emotions did reading or hearing these different perspectives raise for you?
  • What do you think about the ethics of migration and migrant detention after reading or hearing these different perspectives?
  • What can you do to help ensure that migrants are treated humanely, at the border and in your own community?

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

The handouts below are used in this mini-lesson.

Resources from Other Organizations

These are the resources from external sources that we recommend using with students throughout the activities in this mini-lesson.

Additional Resources

Resources from Other Organizations

The resources below provide additional information about this topic. 

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif