U.S. Laws

A group of people attending a naturalization ceremony. Eze Amos/IRC

Laws in the United States protect the rights of all people. Refugees should have a basic knowledge of their rights and responsibilities under U.S. law and of the process they will need to go through to adjust their legal status. They should also know common personal safety practices. Cultural Orientation providers can explore a variety of activities, complete lesson plans, and additional resources that address key messages U.S. Laws Objectives & Indicators, and teach refugees about their basic rights and responsibilities in the United States.

Activity Bank

The Five Freedoms Game

This activity is ideal to teach participants with higher literacy about First Amendment rights. It can be applied in-person.

  1. Divide participants into small groups. If possible, ensure that at least one person in each group is literate.  
  2. Give each group a Five Freedoms game board and a set of the Five Freedoms picture cards. 
  3. Ask one person in each group to read aloud the situation described in the first box of the Five Freedoms game board; for example, he or she will read, “A student presents a paper at school which criticizes the government’s involvement in a war.” 
  4. Tell the group to discuss the situation described and select one of the five freedoms picture cards to place next to that situation on the game board; for example, the group should select the photo representing freedom of speech and place it in the corresponding box. 
  5. Ask the group to select the five freedoms picture cards best suited to each of the situations described on the game board. 
  6. When all the groups have completed the game, have the groups explain their choices and discuss any discrepancies between groups’ answers. Provide correct answers. 
  7. Ask the group if they were surprised by any of the situations and discuss. 

  • For groups with low literacy, the CO provider and/or interpreter can assist by reading the cards as necessary, or the activity can be performed with the class as a whole.  

Local Law Scenarios 

This activity is ideal to explore in more detail following local laws and may serve as a review activity. It can be applied in-person and virtually.

  1.  Ask participants: Are state and local laws the same everywhere in the U.S.?  
  2. Explain the difference between federal, state, and local laws as explained on the COREnav website.
  3. Ask participants: What laws do they already know? 
  4. Provide participants with scenarios provided under materials. For each scenario, ask participants: What would you do? Discuss answers and provide additional information as necessary.

  • Review and adapt scenarios for local context as necessary. 

Rights and Responsibilities Matching

This activity is ideal to identify different rights and responsibilities refugees have in the U.S. It can be applied in-person and virtually.

  1. Ask participants: What does the phrase “to have rights” mean to you? What does the word “responsibilities” mean to you? 
  2. Write or show the words “rights” and “responsibilities” on board or screen. You can also place pieces of paper of these words on the floor.
  3. Share rights and responsibilities images. Ask participants to identify which images are rights, which are responsibilities. Have either participants move the images or move the images on the screen. 
  4. Review and correct answers as necessary. 
  5. Ask participants: Why is it important to understand your rights and responsibilities in the U.S.?

  • If conducting virtually, provide physical CO packet of materials ahead of time with images. 

Guided Discussion on Rule of Law

This activity is ideal for discussing rule of law, U.S. laws, and consequences of breaking the law. It can be applied in-person or virtually.

  1. Ask participants: How do you behave in a classroom? How do you participate? Do you raise your hands? Listen to other?  
  2. Then ask: How do you know to act this way? Why didn’t you yell at others in the classroom when you disagreed? Or provide other examples that would show disorder or lack of respect for rules.  
  3. Explain how there is an understanding between you and the participants regarding classroom rules. Draw attention to how the rules were established. Ask participants: What happens when someone does not respect the rules, or if they do not follow the rules? 
  4. Use this example to draw an analogy to the concept of rule of law and the U.S., highlighting the following key points: 
    • Rule of law relies on all parties involved taking responsibility for their actions (for example, citizens are responsible for obeying the law, while law enforcement is responsible for obeying and enforcing the law).   
    • Rule of law assumes that there are just laws. Laws should be clear, and everyone should know how laws are enforced, and the consequences for not upholding the law. 
    • Rule of law also includes a system by which the people impacted by the laws can dispute them or advocate for changes in the law affecting them. 
  5. Next ask participants: What are the laws in your country of origin?  Are there any laws that exist in your country, but are not enforced by the government? 
  6. Share images on U.S. laws. Ask participants to sort the images into three categories: legal, illegal, or both depending on circumstances, in the U.S.  
  7. Ask participants to explain their responses and correct responses as needed. 
  8. Ask participants: What are the consequences for break the law in the U.S.? 
  9. Explain that there are many laws in the U.S. and it’s their responsibility to know the laws, that laws can change, and that the laws vary from one state to another. 

  • If conducting virtually, provide physical CO packet of materials ahead of time with images. 

Chopped Tree Scenario

This activity is ideal to explore with participants the concept of due process and how it works in the U.S. It can be applied in-person and virtually.

  1. Share the Chopped Tree Scenario. It may be helpful to provide a visual.  
  2. Ask participants: What could happen next?  
  3. After discussing, provide participants with the additional information on the scenario.  
  4. Ask participants: Was this the correct decision? Is it fair? Why or why not? What are the advantages of this choice? What are the challenges?  
  5. Now ask participants to consider the phrase: “right to due process”. Ask participants: What do you think this means?  
  6. Provide this definition: the right to be treated fairly through the use of certain procedures if one is accused of a crime. Explain that in the U.S., the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments require due process.  
  7. Provide participants with the Rule of Law fact sheet or podcast for more details.  
  8. Ask participants to consider the scenario. Was what happened to the family fair? What about the neighbor? How could having a system of due process have helped or changed the outcome?   

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Taken from Rule of Law Lesson Plan 

Rule of Law using COREnav Resources 

This activity is ideal for reviewing rule of law, U.S. laws, and consequences of breaking the law. It can be applied in-person and virtually.

  1. Share the Rule of Law fact sheet or play the podcast. 
  2. Use the  Rule of Law in the U.S. Guided Worksheet to guide participants in learning about the rule of law, and in particular the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. 
  3. Conduct the general debrief or review provided using Debrief Questions Handout. 

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Taken from Rule of Law Lesson Plan 

Lesson Plans

Refugees have compelling needs for protection and, by definition, have a well-founded fear of persecution, often from government authorities or from other powerful social entities. As refugees prepare to come to the United States, many are unfamiliar with the laws that protect their rights, and once they arrive, need encouragement to engage with their new government with trust. These lesson plans are designed to introduce refugees to some fundamental rights in the United States which many Americans may take for granted. It is designed to instill confidence in their safety and build a sense of civic pride and responsibility.

Rule of Law

First Amendment Rights