Immigration Court Hearing

HIST 1362: US History Since 1876
University of Colorado Denver
Fall 2023

HIST 1362: US History Since 1876
University of Colorado Denver
Fall 2023

Assignment Overview

As we will see in this course, citizenship often gets defined by restriction: who isn’t classified as a citizen. Immigration has long been a flash-point in defining American identity. To get a real-world glimpse into this issue, you will be attending an immigration court hearing at the federal immigration court in Denver. These hearings are open to the public but can be logistically challenging to attend (see below for instructions). We will also be discussing details and procedures on how to attend a hearing in class. After attending a hearing, you will then write a reflection about your experience and how it connects to the longer history of immigration in the United States.

Assignment Goals

This assignment will help you become a more knowledgable citizen by giving you an up-close view into the mechanics of government. This is part of the larger assignment set on Politics and Democracy, which helps you make connections between big topics in U.S. history to modern-day issues in American society today.

Assignment Instructions

This assignment takes place in two steps: a) attending a federal immigration court hearing, and b) writing a short reflection about the experience.

Required Reading

Read the following article, which provides historical background on immigration policies and some big trends in immigration over the past sixty years. As you read the article, annotate or take notes on it - you will need to incorporate this history into your written reflection.

  • Muzaffar Chishti, Faye Hipsman, and Isabel Ball, “Fifty Years On, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Continues to Reshape the United States” Migration Policy Institute: Policy Brief (October 15, 2015). Download a PDF of the article here.

Immigration Court Hearing

  • PLAN AHEAD!! Figure out some potential days you can fit the visit into your schedule and sign up for time slot using this Google Doc. You are welcome to go in pairs or small groups, but space is limited in the courtrooms so we can’t have more than six students attending any one session.
  • The Denver Immigration Court is located in downtown Denver, about 1 mile from Auraria Campus. Its address:

Denver Immigration Court
1961 Stout Street, Suite 3101
Denver, CO 80294 Google Maps

  • Hearings are held each weekday, Monday-Friday and take place during two daily sessions - one in the morning (beginning at 8:30am) and one in the afternoon (beginning at 1:00pm). Each morning and afternoon session typically last around two hours but you will not need to stay for the full time. If you cannot arrive right at 8:30 or 1:00 you can arrive later since each session usually lasts for several hours, but there is no guarantee that the session will still be going on.
  • Bring a notepad to take notes.
  • The entrance for immigration court is to your right as you face the building on Stout street.
  • Inside the entrance you will need to sign in and go through security - just tell them you are a student observing immigration court
  • Once through security, take the elevators to the third floor (back and to the right after security)
  • Take a left out of the elevators and you should see a security guard at the end of the hallway to the left. Tell them that you are a student there to observe a “master calendar hearing”
  • If you arrive after the morning/afternoon session has already started, wait until a break in between individual detainee cases to either enter or exit and sit in the back row of the courtroom if possible.
  • This is an official proceeding that has enormous and very serious consequences for the people involved. Behave respectfully. Don’t bring in food or drink, turn off your cell phones, and dress appropriately. Any kind of photography/video recording is strictly prohibited.
  • Observe and take notes on the courtroom proceedings for 30-45 minutes. Be as specific and detailed as you can - you are going to draw on these as the raw material to write your reflection!
    • What are your observations of the process and procedures of the courtroom?
    • What are your observations of the people involved - judge, lawyers, detainees, family members, etc.?
    • What kind of thoughts, feelings, or emotions does this spark for you?
    • What do you find notable, surprising, or confusing?
  • It’s okay if you can’t follow the details for each hearing. There can be a lot of opaque technical and legal language. Follow along as best you can, but if you’re having trouble catching the details of the case itself, try and make observations of all the different people involved, who is in attendance in the audience, what the process is like, etc. along with your own reactions to what you’re observing.
  • You do not need to stay for the entirety of the session - just be sure to wait to leave until there is a break in between detainee cases so you aren’t disrupting the proceedings.


After you have attended the hearing, you will write a two-part reflection. Download this document and use it to complete your reflection.

Part 1: Summary of Experience and Observations

In Part 1, you’re going to to write a 2-3 paragraph summary (around 400-500 words) summarizing your experience and observations of federal immigration court. This should not just be a listing of your observations. Instead, review your notes and pull them together into a coherent summary. Choose a handful of discrete points and then provide specific details to illustrate them. You’re trying to paint a picture of both what it was like and what you observed.

Part 2: Immigration History

In Part 2, you’re going to write 1-2 paragraphs (200-300 words) connecting your experience to the history of immigration in the United States. To do so, you must draw on specific examples from the following:

  • Prof. Blevins lecture: “Immigration and the American Melting Pot” (you can review the lecture here)
  • Muzaffar Chishti, Faye Hipsman, and Isabel Ball, “Fifty Years On, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Continues to Reshape the United States” Migration Policy Institute: Policy Brief (October 15, 2015). Download a PDF of the article here.

Upload your reflection to Canvas as a Word or PDF document.

Note: if you are not going to be able to complete this assignment because of scheduling conflicts or other reasons, please contact Professor Blevins over email or Canvas message prior to Monday, September 25th  and he will provide you with an alternative assignment.