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. On this page, 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. Best for in-person use/

  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. Use in-person or 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. Use in-person or 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 the consequences of breaking the law. Use 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. Use in-person or 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. Use in-person or 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 

Bring in a Guest Speaker 

This activity is ideal for creating a positive exchange of information between local law enforcement and participants around public safety and the role of police in the community. Best for in-person use.

  1. Before the start of the session, prepare the guest speaker with appropriate information about the participants and refugee resettlement in the community. For guidance on using community guests in CO, review CORE’s Promising Practice: Including Guests from the Community.
  2. Before the guest speaker arrives and is introduced, ask participants: What is the role of the police? If not provided previously, review with the How to Interact with the Police in the U.S. video, fact sheet, or podcast with the participants.
  3. Explain to the participants that for today’s session there will be a guest speaker from local law enforcement. Next, ask participants: What questions do you have for the guest speaker? Record responses. Explain to the participants that either they can ask the questions they’ve provided, or you can ask the questions if any of them do not feel comfortable doing so.
  4. Introduce the guest speakers and have participants introduce themselves.
  5. Have the guest speaker provide a presentation or conduct a general question and answer session. The setup will depend on what was agreed upon prior to the session.

  • Before the session, you and, if possible, the guest speaker should review materials and resources on trauma-informed care provided under the additional resources section of this lesson plan.
  • To promote consistent messaging, provide the guest speaker with the How to Interact with the Police in the U.S. video, fact sheet, or podcast
  • You may also want to work with the guest speaker to do a modified version of the List of Scenarios.

Six Words Discussion

This activity is ideal as a starter activity for discussing public safety and police interactions in the U.S. It should be paired with additional activities on this topic. Use in-person or virtually.

  1. Explain to participants that during this session they will learn more about the role of police in the U.S. Take time to create a safe and comfortable space for participants to meaningfully engage in the topic.
  2. Share with participants two to three images from Six Word Discussion Images. Inform participants to identify six words either in response to the images shown or they can select six words based on their own experiences or perceptions about police in the U.S. Participants can write down their words or share orally.
  3. After all participants share their six words, ask the following questions:
    • What similarities did you observe in the words shared?
    • What differences did you observe in the words shared?
    • What do these words show us about perceptions of police?
  4. After the debrief, and as relevant, share the following key messages for this lesson with participants. Explain that together you will discuss further the role of the police in the U.S.
    • The role of the police in the U.S. is to maintain public order and safety, enforce the law, and protect the civil rights of individuals in communities across the country.
    • Refugees may encounter police in a variety of situations in their communities and should be aware of appropriate ways to interact if they encounter police in any setting.
    • Refugees have certain legal rights during police encounters including the right to an interpreter, the right to remain silent, and access to a lawyer if accused of breaking a law and/or arrested.
    • While the local Resettlement Agency will assist refugees in learning about U.S. laws, it is also the responsibility of refugees to know and follow the laws.
    • Refugees, like all people in the U.S., can face consequences if they break the law even if they do not know about the law they broke.
  1. Ask participants: What questions do you have that you want answered today? Assess questions and note any questions from participants that may require follow-up after the session.
  2. Follow-up this activity with How to Interact with the Police Activity.

  • Before the session, review materials and resources on trauma-informed care provided under the Additional Resources section of this lesson plan.
  • It is important to create a positive learning environment that promotes trust and safety, so participants can ask and answer questions on the topic. For more guidance, complete CORE’s online course, Creating a Positive Learning Environment.
  • For one-on-one CO, customize the information as appropriate to the specific case.

How to Interact with the Police Activity

This activity is ideal for understanding how participants may interact with police in their communities and what actions to take. Use in-person or virtually.

  1. Read to participants the short story “Walking Home from Work”.
  2. Ask participants: What has happened so far in the story? If you are the friend in the story, what is your advice? What should you do next? Make note of responses.
  3. Next ask participants: When do you think you may need to interact with police? Make a list of responses and confirm clarify responses as needed. Some example of responses may include:
    • If you have an emergency and you call 9-1-1, police may arrive to assist you.
    • You may encounter police if stopped for a traffic violation.
    • If you attend large public events, sometimes police will be on-site.
    • If there is a suspected disturbance or violation of noise ordinances, someone may call the police to investigate.
    • If you are suspected of violating a local regulation, such as fishing or hunting without a permit, the police may approach to issue a warning or fine.
  4. Next, ask participants: How should you interact with the police? Make a list of responses. Let participants know you will return to their responses after reviewing the video (fact sheet or podcast).
  5. Play the How to Interact with the Police in the U.S. video or share the fact sheet or podcast.
  6. Use the How to Interact with the Police in the U.S. Guided Discussion Worksheet to review the content of the video, fact sheet, or podcast.
  7. Compare information learned in the video, fact sheet, or podcast to the participants’ responses to the earlier question: How should you interact with police?
  8. Close by returning to the story from the beginning of the activity. Ask participants if their answers have changed in terms of what they would do next? If so, have them explain.

  • If using the video or podcast, the fact sheet can serve as a transcript for the interpreter.
  • If using the video or podcast, consider pausing at different sections for interpretation, and also to conduct additional knowledge checks or answer questions.

Public Safety and Police Interaction Scenarios

This activity is ideal for building knowledge and skills on how to interact with police in U.S. communities, including understanding rights to an interpreter and legal assistance. Use in-person or virtually.

  1. If not provided previously, share the How to Interact with the Police in the U.S. video, fact sheet, or podcast with participants and use the How to Interact with the Police in the U.S. Guided Discussion Worksheet in the Appendix.
  2. Provide participants with the scenarios found in the List of Scenarios in the Appendix. Discuss the scenarios with participants and cover key messages of the lesson.
  3. Ask participants: What could be the consequences of breaking the law? When asking this question, participants may ask about how breaking the law influences their immigration status. See the Key Messages Document provided for this activity for general answers to these kinds of questions. Be mindful that any specific questions should be directed to a legal expert.

  • You may add additional scenarios or reduce the number of scenarios, as relevant, for your given context.
  • If appropriate, and with agreement from participants, change the scenarios into role plays that you conduct with the participants for one-on-one sessions or they conduct in pairs for group sessions.
  • You may want to discuss what parents’ roles are with their children around educating them on police interactions. See the Additional Resources section for information.
  • If using the video or podcast, the fact sheet can serve as a transcript for the interpreter.
  • If using the video or podcast, consider pausing at different sections for interpretation, and also to conduct additional knowledge checks or answer questions.

Overview of U.S. Laws using the Settle In app 

This activity is ideal for covering laws and constitutional rights in the U.S. Use in-person or virtually. 

  1. Explain to participants that, during this session, they will be learning about laws in the U.S., rule of law, and constitutional rights. Explain to participants that laws in the U.S. protect all people, including refugees.
  2. Ask participants: What laws do you know of in the U.S.? What are the consequences of breaking the law?
  3. Ask participants: What questions do you have about laws in the U.S.? Record responses.
  4. Access Settle In (available in multiple languages) either through the mobile or desktop app.
  5. Open the “U.S. Laws” chapter of Settle In and then select the lesson: U.S. Laws Overview.
  6. Work with participants and coach participants on completing the lesson on Settle In. Have participants complete the actions collectively, in pairs, or individually, either through a shared screen or on a digital device (laptop, tablet, or smartphone). As appropriate, monitor progress and assist participants as needed in navigating the technology.
  7. Compare their proposed questions from the beginning of the activity with what they actually learned in completing the lesson. Provide additional information as necessary.

  • Computer or other digital device for using the Settle In app. If using desktop, access to reliable WiFi

  • Based on participants’ digital abilities and digital access, you can have participants complete the chapter and lesson either before class to help generate discussion or after class as a review.
  • If additional guidance on using technology during cultural orientation is needed, please reference CORE’s How to Integrate Digital Technology document or online course.
  • For more information on Settle In, see CORE’s Refugee Communications Tools.

Rights and Responsibilities using the Settle In app 

This activity is ideal for covering rights and responsibilities in the U.S., including citizenship and residency, and what refugees can and cannot do under their refugee status. Use in-person or virtually. 

  1. Ask participants: What can you do while under refugee status? What can you not do?
  2. Explain to participants that refugees must follow certain rules while under refugee status, such as travel outside the U.S. or to their country of origin. Explain to participants that they can apply for permanent residency after one year in the U.S. and apply for citizenship after five years as a permanent resident.
  3. Ask participants: What questions do you have about your status in the U.S.? What questions do you have about permanent residency and citizenship? Record responses.
  4. Access Settle In (available in multiple languages) either through the mobile or desktop app.
  5. Open the “U.S. Laws” chapter of Settle In and then select the lesson: Your Rights and Responsibilities.
  6. Work with participants and coach participants on completing the lesson on Settle In. Have participants complete the actions collectively, in pairs, or individually, either through a shared screen or on a digital device (laptop, tablet, or smartphone). As appropriate, monitor progress and assist participants as needed in navigating the technology.
  7. Compare their proposed questions from the beginning of the activity with what they actually learned in completing the lesson. Provide additional information as necessary.

  • Computer or other digital device for using the Settle In app. If using desktop, access to reliable WiFi

  • Based on participants’ digital abilities and digital access, you can have participants complete the chapter and lesson either before class to help generate discussion or after class as a review.
  • If additional guidance on using technology during cultural orientation is needed, please reference CORE’s How to Integrate Digital Technology document or online course.
  • For more information on Settle In, see CORE’s Refugee Communications Tools.

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

Public Safety and Police Interactions