Kids start counting to see if they would’ve made the “Neck Cut”. What is this? What is the debate about?

Quarter 2 pages 46-68

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The debate is about immigration.

Mr. Neck writes on the board again: "DEBATE: America should have closed her borders in 1900. " That strikes a nerve.
Several nerves. I can see kids counting backward on their
fingers, trying to figure when their grandparents or great-
grandparents were born, when they came to America, if they
would have made the Neck Cut. When they figure out
they would have been stuck in a country that hated them, or a place with no schools, or a place with no future, their
hands shoot up.