Course Overview

Hello, and welcome to Reading and Composition in Connection with the Law as a Social Instrument: Immigration and Asylum.

The Goals

This is primarily a course on writing, and so the purpose of this class is to develop your skills as critical readers, careful researchers, and thoughtful writers. By the end of this course, you should be able to critically analyze a piece of writing by explaining the author’s argument, the evidence cited in support of the central claims, and what the author might have done more persuasively. We will develop these skills while also learning fundamental concepts about immigration law in the United States.

The Subject Matter

Immigration is a broad and multi-faceted topic, and is the subject of many undergraduate, graduate, and law school courses. In this course we will narrowly focus on immigration laws as they pertain to two groups: undocumented youth and refugees seeking asylum.

Focusing first on immigration law, and particularly on undocumented students, we will examine the strategies that advocates have used in seeking legal protection for undocumented youth. We will focus on state and federal laws, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and recent changes to enforcement priorities. We will explore the challenges immigrants face in navigating the legal system, questions of membership and belonging, and the politics surrounding our immigration laws. Next, we will turn to refugees who come to the U.S. seeking asylum, we will learn about the legal framework governing asylum claims, and the controversies concerning the standards they must meet to be granted asylum. We will also focus on the legal process they must navigate, challenges to the existing system, and possibilities for reform.

The Reading

To learn how to write effectively one must first learn how to read critically. We will be reading both legal materials and academic writing, and we will apply the skills we build here to help us understand these works and unpack their arguments.

For our primary text, I’ve chosen the book Asylum Denied for us to read because it combines narrative, expositive, and persuasive writing in its treatment of refugee law and policy. It is a story about a man’s life, an explanation of how the asylum system operates, and an argument about the ways in which our legal institutions fall short. Good legal writing requires a blend of compelling storytelling, clear assessment, and forceful advocacy, and in this class you will be asked to write in each style.

Secondary texts include academic analyses of our legal system, judicial opinions in cases involving asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, and opinion pieces arguing for changes to immigration policies.

The Writing

This class focuses on developing your abilities to analyze and to advocate. As I mentioned above, being a strong advocate requires you to tell a story, to explain the relevant rules, and to make a persuasive argument.

To build these skills, you will write several short pieces asking you to do different things — to describe an experience, to analyze a particular text, and to articulate a position in regard to a specific policy. You will give and receive feedback on these smaller projects, and we will work on how to use this feedback to help you revise your work.

Your final project will be to develop a thesis related to the themes of this class, do the necessary research to support your claims, and write a 10-12 page research paper defending this thesis. We will learn together how to find and cite sources, how to introduce the reader to your subject and your research question, and how to build a persuasive argument.