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istock_000012074329xsmallIn our democracy, should legal foreign workers have the same labor rights as citizens?

In June 2008, a dozen workers from India went on a four-week hunger strike in Washington, DC. They claimed that their employer had abused them and hundreds of other Indian workers. They said the company-provided housing was unclean, that the company paid, low wages, and that it even threatened some workers. The workers said the company promised they could become permanent residents of the United States of America. Instead, they became temporary workers. They did not have the same rights as citizens or permanent residents. Eventually, the workers filed a lawsuit against the company.

Materials (pdf)









Links to Principles of Democracy

The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the DDA Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy. 

We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “In our democracy, should legal foreign workers have the same labor rights as citizens?” What principles might you add to the list below?

Please click here for the pdf of the fourteen principles handout on our Democratic Principles & Activities page.


Bill of Rights

billofrightsBill of Rights
Most democratic countries have a list of citizens’ rights and freedoms.  Often called a “Bill of Rights,” this document limits the power of government and explains the freedoms that are guaranteed to all people in the country.  It protects people from a government that might abuse its powers.  When a Bill of Rights becomes part of a country’s constitution, the courts have the power to enforce these rights.<

Economic Freedom

economicfreedomEconomic Freedom
People in a democracy must have some form of economic freedom. This means that the government allows some private ownership of property and businesses.  People are allowed to choose their own work and to join labor unions. The role the government should play in the economy is debated, but it is generally accepted that free markets should exist in a democracy and the state (government) should not totally control the economy.  Some people argue that the state should play a stronger role in countries where great inequality of wealth exists due to past discrimination or other unfair practices.


In a democracy all individuals are valued equally, have equal opportunities, and may not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Individuals and groups maintain their rights to have different cultures, personalities, languages, and beliefs. All are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination.

Human Rights

humanrightsHuman Rights
All democracies strive to value human life and dignity and to respect and protect the human rights of citizens.  Examples include, but are not limited to the following:

Movement: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of his or her country. Everyone has the right to leave and to return to his or her country.  (Article 13, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Religion: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  This right includes freedom to change his or her religion and to worship alone or in community with others. It also includes the right to not worship or hold religious beliefs.  (Article 18, UDHR)

Speech: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information with others. (Article19. UDHR)

Assembly: Everyone has the right to organize peaceful meetings or to take part in meetings in a peaceful way. It is undemocratic to force someone to belong to a political group or to attend political meetings or rallies. (Article 20, UDHR)


For government to be accountable, the people must be aware of the actions their government is taking.  A transparent government holds public meetings and allows citizens to attend. In a democracy the press and the people are able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom, and why.


Selected Resources

Bonilla, Adrian, Gioconda Herrera, and Jacques Ramirez, “Migraciones Latinoamericanas:Proceso Politico, Flujos y Remesas,” paper presented at the Forum of Biarritz, France, November 3–4, 2008.

Borda, Alejandro, “High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development” [Statement on-line] (New York: United Nations General Assembly, September 15, 2006), http://www.un.org/migration/statements.html (accessed May 25, 2011).

Canales, Alejandro I., and Christian Zlolniski, “Comunidades Transnacionales y Migración en la Era de la Globalización,” Notas de Población, no.73 (Santiago de Chile, Chile: 2001), 221- 252.

De la Torre, Adela, and Julia Mendoza, “Immigration Policy and Immigration Flows: A Comparative Analysis of Immigration Law in the U.S. and Argentina,” The Modern American (Summer–Fall 2007).

Durand, Jorge, and Douglas S. Massey, “New World Orders: Continuities and Changes in Latin American Migration,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Philadelphia, PA: American Academy of Political and Social Science, July 2010).

MacDonald, Euan, and Ryszard Cholewinski, The Migrant Workers Convention in Europe (Paris, France: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2007).

Migrant Workers’ Rights in North America (Washington, DC: Commission for Labor Cooperation, 2010).

Portes, Alejandro, “Migration, Development, and Segmented Assimilation: A Conceptual Review of the Evidence,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Philadelphia, PA: American Academy of Political and Social Science, March 2007).