The Immigration Debate: A Lesson from Viva La Causa

In this lesson, students will explore social justice issues within our nation’s immigration debate—a debate that is largely connected in the public psyche to undocumented Latino workers. Students will examine a commentary by Mary Bauer, Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, that encourages everyone to take a hard look at the harm and devastation done to people of Alabama because of the state’s anti-immigrant legislation, HB 56, passed in 2011. 
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of a written commentary that addresses ongoing debates in the United States about immigration and immigrant workers.
  • Conduct research and justify a specific position related to immigration and immigrant workers.

This lesson is part of the Viva la Causa teaching kit.



First, review the Assessing the Commentary handout with students and talk to them about the assessment. They will be asked to assess Bauer’s essay on four measures: clarity of position, degree of support for assertions, organization and tone. Students also will be asked to identify three issues raised in Bauer’s essay about which they would like to know more. Have students read the essay and complete the assessment sheet.


Ask students a few follow-up questions:

  • What is Bauer’s thesis?
  • What are points that support her thesis?
  • Do you agree or disagree with Bauer? Why?

Collect the students’ handouts and group them according to the interests. Next, students will be asked to research key issues raised by Bauer’s essay.


Framework for Research

Inform students that their small groups must write a piece of commentary responding to Bauer’s essay. It should (1) explain and expound on a specific part of something mentioned in the original essay and (2) express their agreement or disagreement with Bauer. The framework for their commentary can be something like the following:

  • Paragraph One: students tell the reader about Bauer’s essay.
  • Paragraph Two: students identify the item that most piqued their interest in Bauer’s article.
  • Paragraphs Three-Five: students research and write about the topic that piqued their interest, presenting at least three related facts.
  • Paragraph Six: students agree or disagree with Bauer and justify their position using information from their research.

We recommend the following websites as starting places for student research: 

  • This website from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project examines worker exploitation, particularly in the context of guestworker programs. Be sure to look at its special reports, Close to Slavery and Injustice on our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry. 
  • The “Anti-Immigration Movement” page from the Center’s Intelligence Project offers a wealth of information about anti-immigrant bias in the mainstream, as well as among extremist groups that promote xenophobia and nativism.
  • Public Citizen provides a simple primer on problems within and generated by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

After students have written their essays, have them use the assessment sheet to grade their own or others’ essays.


Extension Activity

After reading Bauer’s words, have students watch a video of her narrating the essay. Discuss: Which medium do students believe is more powerful, and why? Which images from the video best illustrate the impact of Alabama’s immigration law? Based on both the essay and the video, have students identify what they believe to be the the most significant impact of Alabama’s immigration law and justify their answers.