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Understanding how the government works: The Legislative Branch

While finding a job in order to be able to send money back home is typically the most important factor in many immigrants' lives, once they establish themselves, it's natural for them to pursue other interests.

One of these may be government, as it's not uncommon for immigrants to get involved in politics by learning more about current events and what role people have in swaying public policy.

But before immigrants jump into the political fray, it may be in their interest to learn more about how the federal government works. To help, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services put together a primer that can help them learn about some of the fundamental tenets of the American governmental system.

At a basic level, the federal government is composed of three separate and distinct bodies or branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial.

The Legislative branch is charged with the responsibility of making laws and is composed of an assemblage of spokespeople who are voted into office by their constituents. These spokespeople are called representatives and senators.

Within the Legislative branch are two smaller bodies that compose the whole: The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Both housed in the same building – the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., – the House of Representatives has 435 members, all of whom "represent" their individual states and districts. The more people a state has in terms of population, the more representatives they have. For instance, Delaware – a state with a low population – has one representative, while the heavily populated state of California has 53.

Each representative serves for a period of two years but they can run for re-election when their term has expired.

The other body of Congress is the U.S. Senate. This congressional body is composed of 100 senators, and unlike the House, each state has two senators, no matter how large or small the state may be.

Also unlike the House, senators serve for a period of six years but they too can run for re-election.

While both bodies make laws for the nation, each has duties that are exclusive to them. For instance, as the USCIS documents, only the House of Representatives can introduce laws about taxes. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is the only body that can agree to agreements the president makes with other countries. They are also the only body that can approve appointments made by the president to various departments within the government.

Helpful links:

U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
Welcome to the U.S.A. – History and Government

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