Immigration Reform Proposal Essay Topics

President Obama’s commonsense immigration reform proposal has four parts. First, continue to strengthen our borders. Second, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers. Third, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks. Fourth, streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.  

Together we can build a fair, effective and commonsense immigration system that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

The key principles the President believes should be included in commonsense immigration reform are:

  • Continuing to Strengthen Border Security: President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004 and today border security is stronger than it has ever been.  But there is more work to do.   The President’s proposal gives law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime.  And by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute national security threats.

  • Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States.  Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules.  The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable.  At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.

  • Earned Citizenship: It is just not practical to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders.  The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else.  Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship. There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria. The proposal will also stop punishing innocent young people brought to the country through no fault of their own by their parents and give them a chance to earn their citizenship more quickly if they serve in the military or pursue higher education.

  • Streamlining Legal Immigration:  Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules.  For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient.  The President’s proposal attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries.  The President’s proposal will also reunify families in a timely and humane manner.

  • Strengthen border security and infrastructure.  The President’s proposal strengthens and improves infrastructure at ports of entry, facilitates public-private partnerships aimed at increasing investment in foreign visitor processing, and continues supporting the use of technologies that help to secure the land and maritime borders of the United States.

  • Combat transnational crime.  The President’s proposal creates new criminal penalties dedicated to combating transnational criminal organizations that traffic in drugs, weapons, and money, and that smuggle people across the borders.  It also expands the scope of current law to allow for the forfeiture of these organizations’ criminal tools and proceeds.  Through this approach, we will bolster our efforts to deprive criminal enterprises, including those operating along the Southwest border, of their infrastructure and profits.

  • Improve partnerships with border communities and law enforcement.  The President’s proposal expands our ability to work with our cross-border law enforcement partners.  Community trust and cooperation are keys to effective law enforcement. To this end, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will establish border community liaisons along the Southern and Northern borders to improve communication and collaboration with border communities, boost funding to tribal government partners to reduce illegal activity on tribal lands, and strengthen training on civil rights and civil liberties for DHS immigration officers.

  • Crack down on criminal networks engaging in passport and visa fraud and human smuggling. The President’s proposal creates tough criminal penalties for trafficking in passports and immigration documents and schemes to defraud, including those who prey on vulnerable immigrants through notario fraud. It also strengthens penalties to combat human smuggling rings.

  • Deporting Criminals. The President’s proposal expands smart enforcement efforts that target convicted criminals in federal or state correctional facilities, allowing us to remove them from the United States at the end of their sentences without re-entering our communities. At the same time, it protects those with a credible fear of returning to their home countries.

  • Streamline removal of nonimmigrant national security and public safety threats.  The President’s proposal creates a streamlined administrative removal process for people who overstay their visas and have been determined to be threats to national security and public safety.

  • Improve our nation’s immigration courts.  The President’s proposal invests in our immigration courts. By increasing the number of immigration judges and their staff, investing in training for court personnel, and improving access to legal information for immigrants, these reforms will improve court efficiency.  It allows DHS to better focus its detention resources on public safety and national security threats by expanding alternatives to detention and reducing overall detention costs.  It also provides greater protections for those least able to represent themselves.

  • Create a provisional legal status.  Undocumented immigrants must come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass criminal background and national security checks, and pay fees and penalties before they will be eligible for a provisional legal status.  Agricultural workers and those who entered the United States as children would be eligible for the same program.  Individuals must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared before getting in line to apply for lawful permanent residency (i.e. a “green card”), and ultimately United States citizenship. Consistent with current law, people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the new health care law.

  • Create strict requirements to qualify for lawful permanent resident status.  Those applying for green cards must pay their taxes, pass additional criminal background and national security checks, register for Selective Service (where applicable), pay additional fees and penalties, and learn English and U.S. civics.  As under current law, five years after receiving a green card, individuals will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship like every other legal permanent resident.

  • Earned citizenship for DREAMers. Children brought here illegally through no fault of their own by their parents will be eligible for earned citizenship.  By going to college or serving honorably in the Armed Forces for at least two years, these children should be given an expedited opportunity to earn their citizenship.  The President’s proposal brings these undocumented immigrants out of the shadows.

  • Create administrative and judicial review. An individual whose provisional lawful status has been revoked or denied, or whose application for adjustment has been denied, will have the opportunity to seek administrative and judicial review of those decisions.

  • Provide new resources to combat fraud. The President’s proposal authorizes funding to enable DHS, the Department of State, and other relevant federal agencies to establish fraud prevention programs that will provide training for adjudicators, allow regular audits of applications to identify patterns of fraud and abuse, and incorporate other proven fraud prevention measures.

  • Keep Families Together. The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers.  The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system.   It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.

  • Cut Red Tape for Employers.  The proposal also eliminates the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system.  Outdated legal immigration programs are reformed to meet current and future demands by exempting certain categories from annual visa limitations.
  • Enhance travel and tourism.  The Administration is committed to increasing U.S. travel and tourism by facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining our nation’s security.  Consistent with the President’s Executive Order on travel and tourism, the President’s proposal securely streamlines visa and foreign visitor processing.  It also strengthens law enforcement cooperation while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives.  It facilitates more efficient travel by allowing greater flexibility to designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of designated countries to visit the United States without obtaining a visa.  And finally it permits the State Department to waive interview requirements for certain very low-risk visa applicants, permitting resources to be focused on higher risk applicants and creates a pilot for premium visa processing.

  • “Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas.  The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States.  It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers.

  • Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs.  The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.

  • Expand opportunities for investor visas and U.S. economic development.  The proposal permanently authorizes immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; provides incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions ; adds new measures to combat fraud and national security threats; includes data collection on economic impact; and creates a pilot program for  state and local government officials to promote economic development.

  • Create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories.  The proposal creates a new visa category for a limited number of highly-skilled and specialized immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States. for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.

  • Better addresses humanitarian concerns. The proposal streamlines immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrants, including those who are victims of crime and domestic violence.  It also better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.

  • Encourage integration. The proposal promotes earned citizenship and efforts to integrate immigrants into their new American communities linguistically, civically, and economically.

  • Lesson Plans

    Back to lesson plans archiveNovember 18, 2012

    Understanding immigration reform – Lesson Plan

    By Lisa Prososki


    Secondary current events, political science, social studies, U.S. history, civics, debate, and communication arts classes


    Three 90-minute or five 50-minute class periods plus additional time for extension activities.


    Students will:

    1. Utilize their prior knowledge to brainstorm definitions for immigrant, illegal immigrant, and undocumented immigrant and share these definitions with classmates, as well as answer questions about immigration facts and statistics.
    2. Participate in a class discussion where they must share and support their opinions using reasons, facts, and examples.
    3. Conduct research using Internet, news and primary sources to learn about the opinions of various groups representing a variety of viewpoints about immigration reform.
    4. Develop a role play that illustrates a specific point of view related to immigration reform and perform this role play for classmates.
    5. Learn about current laws/pending legislation related to immigration reform by utilizing primary sources.
    6. Debate issues related to immigration reform based on the various viewpoints represented in the prior class activities.
    7. Compose a persuasive essay, letter to the editor, or e-mail/letter to a state senator describing their views about immigration reform and their ideas for solving the problem.


    Each year millions of people cross the U.S. borders illegally in search of the American dream — a land of freedom and opportunity that can provide them and their families with a quality of life they cannot enjoy in their home countries.

    Throughout the 2000s, Americans became increasingly concerned with illegal immigration, citing the rising cost of illegal immigrants and the strain they place on public services such as the education, legal, and emergency medical systems in the U.S.

    With some 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. and working in jobs that most Americans will not do, illegal immigrants feel they are a crucial part of the economic prosperity enjoyed by U.S. citizens.

    With many varying opinions about illegal immigrants, people on all sides of the issue are calling for immigration reform. Everyday citizens, business leaders, and immigrants, legal and illegal, are making their views known to lawmakers in an attempt to spur immigration reform that will fairly address the problem of illegal immigration and provide a solution that is beneficial to all people residing and working in the U.S today.


    NOTE: This lesson is broken into two parts. Depending on the amount of time available for study, the lesson could be done in its entirety or Part 1 and Part 2 could be completed as stand alone lessons.

    Part 1: The Facts of the Matter
    1. Write the words “immigrant,” “illegal immigrant” and “undocumented immigrant” on the board or overhead and have them displayed for students when they enter the classroom. Direct students to think about each term and share his/her definition of each term with the person sitting next to him/her. As a group, discuss the various definitions and work as a class to record an accurate description for each term (simple definitions are listed below).
      • immigrant – a person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another after being granted permission to do so by the government
      • illegal immigrant – an alien (non-citizen) who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa. This person is sometimes referred to as an “undocumented immigrant”.
      • undocumented immigrant – an alien (non-citizen) who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa. This person is sometimes referred to as an “illegal immigrant”.
      • Note: Take time to discuss the fact that while illegal immigrants and undocumented immigrants are the same thing, the terms have very different connotations. Briefly discuss these connotations.
      • Also, despite the widespread use of “illegal” and “undocumented” immigrants in the media, the AP Stylebook no longer recognizes either term. Instead, it encourages the use of “persons who have immigrated illegally”. Briefly discuss why this might be.
    2. List the term “immigration reform” on the board or overhead. Take 2-3 minutes to do a class brainstorming session and list all the ideas students can generate about this topic.
    3. To get students interested and thinking more about the facts related to immigration, particularly illegal immigrants, distribute the Immigration Facts and Statistics worksheet and provide students with 5 minutes to complete the questions using their prior knowledge and their best guesses.
      • Note: Statistics and information presented on the Immigration Facts and Statistics worksheet was found from a number of primary sources including the Center for Immigration Studies, Online NewsHour, the Nightly Business Report, the White House Immigration Reform Fact Sheet, and ABC News.
    4. After students have completed the Immigration Facts and Statistics worksheet, work as a class to discuss the answers to each question. Once students have some basic facts about illegal immigration, pose the following questions:
      1. In your opinion, in what ways are illegal immigrants important/helpful to the U.S.?
      2. In your opinion, in what ways are illegal immigrants impacting the U.S. in a negative way?
      • Facilitate a short discussion about these two questions and have students give specific reasons, facts and examples to support what they say whenever possible.
    Part 2: Debating Various Points of View

    Distribute the handout From My Point of View Part 1 to each student. Select students to read about each different group’s point of view on immigration and reforming the current laws. As you complete the section about each group of people, take 2-3 minutes to discuss their point of view and summarize their main ideas about illegal immigrants.

    1. Divide the class into 4 groups. Using Internet resources or other primary sources, have students work as a group to research the common opinions of the people they are representing. They should use the questions on From My Point of View Parts 2-3 handout to guide their research.
    2. When research has been completed and each group has a clear understanding of what the people they represent believe about illegal immigrants, direct students to Part 3 of the From My Point of View handout. Give groups 15-20 minutes to create and practice their role-play.
    3. Have each group present their role-play to the class. Students should pay careful attention to each group presentation to learn how each group feels about the issues surrounding illegal immigrants.
    4. When all groups have completed their role play demonstrations, distribute current information about the laws governing illegal immigrants and/or the legislation being considered by lawmakers to reform immigration laws and policies. This information can be found using the Related Links section included below.
    5. Bring all of the groups together as a class to present their proposals and discuss and debate the various points of view related to immigration. Encourage groups to use their Pros/Cons charts and their written proposals to support the point of view they are representing.
    6. As a final activity, have each student draft a letter, persuasive essay, or letter to the editor that describes what they believe should be done to solve the problem of illegal immigrants in the U.S. Students should utilize what they have learned from their research and class discussion and debate activities to formulate a plan that addresses the point of view provided by each of the groups they learned about. Encourage students to share their work by e-mailing state lawmakers or submitting their writing to the school or local newspaper.
    Related Links

    The White House Immigration Fact Sheet
    Outlining President Obama’s plan for immigration reform, the site provides facts, statistics, and detailed information about what the president believes should be done to reform U.S. immigration laws and policies.

    Senate Hearts Appeal for Immigration Reform
    This video and blog examine the two differing sides of the current immigration reform debate.

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 
    Sample questions from the Naturalization Self Test offer opportunities to view the types of questions presented on the citizenship test in an interactive format.

    Pew Hispanic Center
    The site provides statistical information and studies about America’s Hispanic population and has specific links dedicated to immigration issues

    Extension Activity

    Have students learn about the steps are for becoming a U.S. citizen. Use primary sources to research the process and create a flow chart that documents the steps. Using an online source such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Self Test, have students answer the sample questions to see what types of knowledge immigrants must have about the country. Have students discuss the steps to citizenship and why they are important for those considering immigration to the U.S.

    About the Author

    Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school social studies, English, reading, and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked with PBS TeacherSource and has authored and edited many lesson plans and materials for various PBS programs over the past nine years. In addition to conducting workshops for teachers at various state and national meetings, Prososki works as an editor, creates a wide range of educational and training materials for corporate clients, and has authored one book.

    To find out more about opportunities to contribute to this site, contact Leah Clapman at extra [at]

    More Social Studies lesson plans from PBS TeacherSource

    Copyright © 2013 MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved

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