To the Teacher:

Immigration policy is a hotly debated issue in the country and in Congress. The immigration bill now before Congress presents a teachable moment for students to consider the pros and cons of a new policy. The reading provides an overview of the bill that originated in the Senate; the DBQ offers multiple points of view on it. Discussion questions about them and an essay assignment follow.

The Document-Based Question exercise might instead be used as a basis for class discussion. See a suggested approach following the DBQ.

For additional background, see also "Illegal Immigrants: Why do they come? What should the U.S. do about them?" and "Should undocumented immigrants have 'a shot at the American Dream'?" both available on this website.


Student Reading:

An overview of an immigration bill

Immigration policy reform has become a major political and social issue during the past few years. The main reason is the continued flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. Nobody knows exactly how many there are in the country, but the usual estimates are 11-12 million.

This year Democrats and Republicans in the Senate drafted a bill that attempts to come to grips with key immigration issues. The bill is detailed, complicated and more than 300 pages long. Its major provisions call for:

  • greater border security
  • a new system requiring employers to determine the legal status of all job applicants
  • an opportunity for most illegal immigrants to become citizens
  • a temporary worker program
  • a new system for family and merit-based visas.

Political, business, labor, ethnic and other groups are now debating for and against each of the bill's provisions.

Border security
Before undocumented immigrants can get their first legal visas and before a temporary or guest worker program can begin, the bill would require that the U.S. complete building of 370 miles of fencing and 200 miles of vehicle barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Border Patrol would gradually be doubled to 28,000 agents.

Legal status of job applicants

Under the bill, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would create a new, foolproof system to assure that all job applicants are legal. Penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants would increase to as much as $75,000 and even jail time for repeated offenders.

Citizenship for illegal immigrants

It would take at least 13 years for an illegal immigrant to gain citizenship. During this time, an immigrant would have to: register with the Department of Homeland Security; pass a probationary period; apply to become a legal permanent resident; pay a $5,000 fine for entering the country illegally; prove that he or she speaks English; and return to his or her country of origin to file for permanent status and pay fees for various applications.

Temporary or guest worker program

A new program would admit 200,000 immigrant workers temporarily for as many as three periods of two years each. Between each two-year period the immigrant would have to leave the U.S. for one year. Employers would be required to pay these temporary workers the same wage they would pay Americans but would have to demonstrate that they tried to hire American workers first.

Family and merit-based visas

There is a backlog of 4 million foreigners with connections to families in the U.S. who have been waiting, often for many years, to join those families. A point system for future immigrants would be established based on job skills, job history, education and ability to speak English. But during the first years of this program, most of the immigrants permitted to enter would be those with family connections. Gradually, the majority of immigrants would be those scoring highest in merit on the point system.

President Bush said he supports the bill because it provides "for comprehensive immigration reform. It will improve the security of our borders. It will give employers new tools to verify the employment status of worker and hold businesses to account for those they hire. It will create a temporary worker program. It will help us resolve the status of millions of illegal immigrants who are already here, without animosity and without amnesty." (radio address, 5/19/07)

As of May 31, 2007, it seemed likely the bill would pass in the Senate, but not so likely in the House of Representatives.

For discussion

1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. Does each of the major provisions of the immigration bill seem fair and right to you? If not, why not? If you think you need more information about the bill to make a judgment, what could you do to get it?

3. Some opponents of the bill have said it unfairly gives amnesty to people who came here illegally. President Bush disagrees with them. Where do you stand on the amnesty issue and why?

4. Based on what you now understand about the bill, and on balance, would you support it? Why or why not?


DBQ: Multiple views in the immigration debate

Read each paragraph, and then answer the question following it. After you have read all the paragraphs, write an essay in response to item G


He [Governor Bill Richardson] said that after reading [the immigration bill], he had decided to oppose it, saying the measure placed too great a burden on immigrants-tearing apart families that wanted to settle in the United States, creating a permanent tier of second-class immigrant workers and financing a border fence that Mr. Richardson had long opposed. "This is fundamentally flawed in its current form, and I would oppose it," he said. "We need bipartisanship, but we also need legislation that is compassionate. I'm not sure that this is."

New York Times, 5/24/06, in a story describing the position of Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico and a Democratic presidential candidate.

Question: What is one reason why Governor Richardson does not regard the bill as "compassionate"?


This bipartisan and comprehensive reform package addresses our country's immigration policy and goes beyond to focus on our nation's economy and security. This bill has a great deal of balance in it because it enforces our borders first and foremost while ensuring America has the labor force our economy desperately needs.  To the 12 million people that are here today illegally, this bill provides an opportunity for them to come out of the shadows. This consensus bill isn't perfect. It's the best solution we could find today.

—Senator Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican and co-sponsor of the immigration bill (

Question: Why does Senator Martinez think that the bill promotes U.S. security?


[The immigration bill] abandons longstanding U.S. policy favoring the reunification of families and protecting workers by limiting the size and the scope of guestworker programs - which frequently amount to virtual servitude, where workers' fates are tied to their employers and their workplace rights are impossible to exercise. The proposal unveiled today includes a massive guestworker program that would allow employers to import hundreds of thousands temporary workers every year to perform permanent jobs throughout the economy. Without a real path to legalization, the program will exclude millions of workers and thus ensure that America will have two classes of workers, only one of which can exercise workplace rights. As long as this two-tiered system exists, all workers will suffer because employers will have available a ready pool of labor they can exploit to drive down wages, benefits, health and safety protections and other workplace standards.

—John Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO, (

Question: Why does Sweeney think that the bill does not provide adequately for worker rights?


Legalization is important for our national security. We have to know who is in the United States. Legalization is important in terms of our economic prosperity. And legalization is important for the families. Do we think we're going to deport children-3.5 million American children who have parents that are undocumented?

—Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a chief architect of the Senate bill, 5/25/07

Question: What is one reason Senator Kennedy gives to support the legalization of illegal immigrants?


"Our members are concerned about any measure that includes amnesty," said Michael Donahue, a spokesman for the National Federation if Independent Business. Another key issue for small-business owners is the employment-verification system, according to Donahue. While smaller employers support tough security measures, they are also worried about being held accountable for the legal status of new hires. Donahue said small-business owners support [holding employers to account], so long as [the law] recognizes the differences between small and large employers. "Getting a $10,000 fine could be devastating to a small business," he said.

New York Times, 5/18/07

Question: According to Donahue, what worry do small-business owners have about the bill?


One of the things making antiworker policies politically possible is the fact that millions of the worst-paid workers [illegal immigrants] in this country can't vote. Now, the proposed immigration reform does the right thing in principle by creating a path to citizenship for those already here. We're not going to expel 11 million illegal immigrants, so the only way to avoid having those immigrants be a permanent disenfranchised class is to bring them into the body politic.  But the bill creates a path to citizenship so torturous that most immigrants probably won't even try to legalize themselves. Meanwhile, the bill creates a guest worker program, which is exactly what we don't want to do. Progressive supporters of the proposed bill defend the guest worker program as a necessary evil, the price that must be paid for business support. Right now, however, the price looks too high, [for] this bill could all too easily end up actually expanding the class of disenfranchised voters.

—Paul Krugman, "Immigrants and Politics," New York Times, 5/25/07

Question: What concerns Krugman about the guest worker program?


Americans agree that the U.S. needs a new immigration policy. Since the new bill includes many provisions, most will probably favor some and not others, making it difficult for people to decide whether or not to support it.

Using information from the documents and your knowledge of the immigration situation in the U.S., write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs and a conclusion in which you:

  • compare and contrast different viewpoints on the immigration bill and
  • discuss your own viewpoint and the reasons for it.


A discussion procedure

1. Have students read each item in the DBQ, then answer the question in writing in a sentence or two. Discuss with class.

2. Organize small groups of students to discuss differing viewpoints, including theirs, about the merits of the immigration bill. Assign one student in each group to summarize the discussion for the class.

3. After reporters present the summaries, invite class discussion.



This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: