LESSON

Writing Persuasive Letters About Immigration Reform

Latino workers from Central and South America, as well as Mexico, have long been part of the workforce in the United States. In response to calls for immigration reform, President G. W. Bush proposed a new temporary worker program. There was just one catch -- it would be based on existing guest worker initiatives, which civil rights advocates said were rife with abuse.
Grade Level

Objectives
  • Students will gather and use information for research purposes.
  • Students will use the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
  • Students will use a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work.
  • Students will use content, style, and structure appropriate for a specific audience and purpose, crafting persuasive letters/letters of request and response (e.g., state purpose of the letter; relate opinions, problems and requests; use precise vocabulary).
  • Students will gain an appreciation for being an informed constituent.
  • Students will contribute to the overall effort of a group.

Perspective

Latino workers from South and Central America, as well as Mexico, have long been part of the workforce in the United States. In response to calls for immigration reform, President G. W. Bush proposed "a new temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers." He said the new program would 1) "allow workers to find jobs and employers to find workers, quickly and simply;" and 2) "protect all workers in America with labor laws, the right to change jobs, fair wages and a healthy work environment."

There was just one catch -- the new program is based on the federal government's existing guest worker initiatives (H-2B and H2-A), which civil rights advocates said were rife with abuse. The Immigrant Justice Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented serious, widespread abuse and exploitation of H-2B workers:

  • Workers routinely log 60 or more hours each week but earn substantially less than the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, and certainly less than the "prevailing wage" required for H-2B workers.
  • Workers are not paid federally required overtime and often are forced to pay for their own work tools, visas and travel expenses -- in violation of the law.
  • Some employers seize workers' passports and other identity documents upon arrival, and many require workers to leave the deeds to their homes with recruiters in their home countries. These practices create a captive workforce unlikely to complain about wages and working conditions.
  • Workers often suffer terrible accidents on the job, but few receive workers' compensation benefits. Many have lost their lives in van accidents.

 

Suggested Resources

Beneath the Pines: Stories of Migrant Tree Planters

Migrant workers tell their stories of being brought to the U.S. from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to plant trees, thin forests and apply herbicides for timber contractors operating on public lands and on huge commercial tracts in the South.

Immigrant Hotel Workers Exploited in New Orleans


The Immigrant Justice Project filed a lawsuit against one of New Orleans' wealthiest hotel owners on behalf of Latin American immigrants who were lured to New Orleans to do jobs held by citizens prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Food Giant Sued for Mistreatment of Farmworkers

An SPLC lawsuit claims Del Monte, one of the nation's largest food providers, cheated H-2A guest workers out of wages to which they were entitled.

 

Suggested Procedures

  1. Have students review samples of effective persuasive letters, critique their form and content and summarize key components. 

  2. Introduce the topic of guest worker programs to students.
  3. Divide students into small groups. Ask half the groups to answer the following questions:
    • How do U.S. businesses recruit guest workers?
    • What kinds of work do guest workers do?
    • What words best describe their working conditions?
    • How are guest workers paid?
    • Describe common types of abuse to which guest workers are subjected.

    Ask the other half to answer the following questions:
    • What are the current laws and policies related to guest workers?
    • What government agencies are responsible for overseeing enforcement of these laws and policies?
    • How well are these agencies enforcing the laws and policies?
    • How can legislators and other national or community leaders protect guest workers from abuse?
  4. Allow time for students to research their topics, using the suggested resources (above), as well as other available materials, including the Internet.
  5. As a whole class, discuss each group's findings.
  6. Have each group draft a letter to a policy maker or organization of their choosing. Letters should reflect findings from research and make recommendations about ways to prevent guest worker abuse. 
  7. After response letters start coming back to students, talk about the responses as a class and determine whether additional action is warranted.