11/07/2011 04:39 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2012

Immigration Nation

Illegal immigration has long been a hot button topic, almost since the inception of the federal law passed in 1875 that finally drew a distinction between legal and illegal immigrants. Back then the law applied to relatively few individuals (the law was originally intended only to keep out convicts and prostitutes) but since then the definition of what constituftes a felony has been widened and the debate over who should be allowed to stay has grown more and more heated. The question is: with an issue that is clearly going to be a constantly prevalent one in our nation's future, as it has been in our past, and at the same time one that no one seems able to agree upon, how do we communicate this situation to the children in our schools without bias?

This past week, the Statue of Liberty celebrated her 125th anniversary. (If you haven't yet bought her flowers, there's still time.) For well over a century immigrants have sailed past -- or into -- Ellis Island and marveled at Lady Liberty as she welcomed newcomers to share in our ideals of freedom and democracy. The U.S. used to pride itself on being a melting pot, encouraging cultural assimilation and providing a haven for those who may be experiencing difficult or unfair living conditions in their native homes. Because we have always wanted to be the good guy -- at once the authority policing the world and at the same time a sort of caring friend or mother who looks over the downtrodden and gives hope to the destitute.

But nothing is ever so cut and dry. Opening our doors to immigrants who went through the appropriate steps of naturalization also left it slightly cracked for not-so-legal immigrants to sneak on through. Eventually, that small crack busted wide open, and soon the number of illegal immigrants was many times that of those who were entering legally. There are arguments that this influx of illegals has stolen away American jobs (which haven't been all that plentiful of late, at least not in relation to our population) and negatively affected the wages of those who were gainfully employed, while others maintain that a vast majority of these cheap labor positions are undesirable by Americans, anyway. Some feel that we should tighten the screws on immigration laws, allowing fewer immigrants to become U.S. citizens (or none at all, in the case of a small segment of nativists) others are continually pushing for mass amnesty for many or all illegals.

Because there is such passion on both sides of the argument, we really have no choice but to treat it like any other matter that is so hotly debated (abortion, gay rights, NFL power rankings). No matter the feelings of the individual instructor, all of the facts must be laid out and discussed without prejudice of opinion, allowing students to process all of the available information and construct their own conclusions about where we should go from here. Of course, it is always a teacher's job to be impartial and give equal time to all sides, but we are only human, and it can be tempting to let personal judgments seep into what is intended to be unbiased lecture. Just remember that those malleable minds have been entrusted to your care, and they should be guided -- not forced -- to grow and mature, albeit in various directions. Try to be as nonpartisan as Lady Liberty, who has stood there for 125 years without voicing her own opinion on the matter.