Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens and Non-Citizens

Activities explore the rights of citizens and non-citizens in the United States, times when those rights been denied (including the Page Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment during World War II) and what individuals and events deserve a state or national holiday or day of recognition in the struggle for civil rights and civil liberties. A Media Literacy Connection asks students to analyze portrayals of immigrants on television and in films.

 Standard 4.2: Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens and Non-Citizens

Describe the rights and responsibilities of citizens as compared to non-citizens. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T4.2]

FOCUS QUESTION: What Are the Rights and Responsibilities of United States Citizens and Non-Citizens?

Table showcasing the Rights and Responsibilities of US Citizen
Image from the website of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Department of Homeland Security | Public Domain

The Bill of Rights (the Constitution’s first 10 amendments) and civil rights laws set forth the rights (protections under the law) of all Americans.

As summarized by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union, 2022) you have specific rights:

Rights come with responsibilities (obligations that citizens are expected to perform) such as paying taxes, serving on a jury when called, defending the country, and participating in the democratic process. Exercising one’s rights and fulfilling one’s responsibilities are the features of active and engaged citizenship in this country. 

Non-citizens also have rights and responsibilities as members of American society, but their situations are complicated by legal rules and political pressures.

1.INVESTIGATE: Rights of Citizens and Non-Citizens

93% of the people living in the United States are citizens; 7% are non-citizens (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020). One recent estimate puts the number of non-citizens at 22.6 million (CAP Immigration Team & Nicolson, 2017).

The rights of individuals under the Constitution apply to citizens and non-citizens alike. Since the Constitution uses the term "people" or "person" rather than "citizen," many of the "basic rights, such as the freedom of religion and speech, the right to due process and equal protection under the law apply to citizens and noncitizens. How those rights play out in practice is more complex" (Frazee, 2018, para. 6-7). 

Non-citizens, no matter what their immigration status, generally have the same rights as citizens when law enforcement officers stop, question, arrest, or search them or their homes.

Timeline of Rights Established

Timeline of Rights Established by the Supreme Court
Image from Office of the U.S. Attorney, District of Minnesota | Public Domain

Learn more: Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities & Constitutional Rights of Non-Citizens.

Media Literacy Connections: Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and Film

Portrayals of immigrants and the immigrant experience are frequent themes in television and film.

portrayal is how an individual or group is presented in media, but such representations may or may not be factually accurate. Sometimes these representations offer an idealized view of the immigrant experience. While the Statue of Liberty portrays a nation welcoming newcomers, the reality is that the United States was and is not a land of opportunity for many who come here.

In other instances, immigrants may be presented in harmfully stereotypical terms, often as criminals or threats. In the report Change the Narrative, Change the World: How Immigrant Representation on Television Moves Audiences to Action, researchers from the University of Southern California found viewers who saw programs with more inclusive immigration storylines had more welcoming, supportive attitudes toward immigrants than those who did not.

In these activities, you will explore whether current portrayals and representations of immigrants in television and film media are accurate or stereotypical, and while so doing, consider: "What does media representation of immigrants mean to immigrants?"

Watch on YouTube

Suggested Learning Activities

*This activity is designed to demonstrate that the rights guaranteed to all Americans as citizens are not universal for all people (even legal immigrants to the country). It ask students to think critically and creatively about what rights all people should have. It is based on a learning plan developed by University of Massachusetts Amherst teaching interns Conor Morrissey and Connor Frechette-McCall in Fall 2019.

Online Resources for the Rights of Citizens and Non-citizens

2. UNCOVER: Civil Liberties Denied: Page Act, Chinese Exclusion Act, and Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II

Immigrating to the United States and being a citizen of the country has not meant that peoples' rights and civil liberties have been fully protected at all times. The Page Act of 1875, 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II are examples of deeply rooted anti-Asian racism in United States history. German people also faced internment in the United States during World War I.

The Page Act (1875) and Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)

The Chinese Exclusion Act established a 10 year ban on Chinese laborers coming to the United States, making it the first significant federal law restricting immigration to the country. It was made permanent in 1903 and was not officially condemned by Congress till 2011. Here is a detailed summary of the Act from the National Archives.

Learn more about the Exclusion Act from this video posted on the History of Racial Injustice Calendar.

While the Chinese Exclusion Act dramatically altered immigration policies, an earlier law, the Page Act of 1875, effectively restricted Chinese women from coming to the United States. As University of Massachusetts history major Bri Hastry noted, the Page Act revealed "discrimination as well as the stereotyping of Asian women as being a sexual threat and being involved in prostitution. This skewed gender ratios of Asians in the US and paved the way for other discriminatory immigration acts" while showing the double complexities of being a woman and a racial minority in the American society of the time.

You can learn more from Chinese Exclusion Act and the Exclusion of Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Chinese Women, a video and learning plan from the Asian American Education Project.

The Internment of Japanese Americans

Following the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which mandated moving 120,000 Japanese-Americans from their homes to one of 10 internment camps in the western part of the United States. Most of the people relocated were U.S. citizens or legal permanent resident aliens. 

The U.S. also engaged in a parallel internment system in which some 2200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent were taken from countries including Peru, Bolivia and Colombia and confining them in the United States (America's Forgotten Internment, Politico Magazine, December 2121).

Farm workers at Manzanar Relocation Center

Farm workers, Manzanar Relocation Center, Ansel Adams Photograph, 1943
"Farm workers and Mt. Williamson" by Ansel Adams
Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division under the digital ID ppprs.00370
Public Domain

Internment camps, officially called "relocation centers," were located in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. Over 50% of those interned were children.

Constitutional safeguards given to United States citizens were ignored or bypassed in the name of national defense. People were detained for up to four years, without due process of law or any factual basis, and forced to live in remote camps behind barbed wire and under the surveillance of armed guards.

Watch on YouTube

Actor George Takei and his family were imprisoned in Rohwer, Arkansas, as documented in his autobiography To The Stars (1995). Takei and three co-writers have since collaborated on They Called Us Enemy, a graphic memoir about his experiences in the camp (2019). Takei later became well-known for his role on televsion show Star Trek.

In 1944, two years after signing Executive Order 9066, President Roosevelt revoked the order. The last internment camp was closed by the end of 1945.  There was no official apology from the United States government until passage of The Civil Liberties Act of 1988. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush wrote a letter of apology to each surviving internment camp member who also received a $20,000 check from the government (Letter from President George Bush to Japanese Internees).

Largely forgotten today were the experiences of Japanese-American soldiers who fought for the United States in western Europe. Many of these soldiers were Nisei (American-born children of Japanese immigrants), and former members of the Hawaii National Guard. They experienced the contradiction of fighting to liberate Europe and close down German concentration camps while other Japanese-Americans were interned in camps at home.

Japanese-American Infantrymen

Japanese-American infantrymen of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team hike up a muddy French road in the Chambois Sector, France, in late 1944.
"442 regimental combat team" | Public Domain

Suggested Learning Activities

  • Analyze Primary Sources
  •  Analyze Multimedia Sources
    • How did Japanese Americans respond to their internment?
      • Children of the Camps is a PBS documentary (and accompanying website) about the experiences of six Japanese-Americans who were detained as children.
      • Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project offers multimedia materials including a slideshow and videos as well as oral histories from Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during World War II.

  • Design a "Righting a Wrong Poster" About Internment Camps  
  • Take a Position
    • Should internment camps have been used on Japanese Americans, many of whom were U.S. citizens, after the attack on Pearl Harbor?
      • Write 1-2 paragraphs answering the question and cite at least 3 pieces of evidence.
        • Split the class into two groups and have one group research reasons for the use of internment camps and the other group research issues and unfair treatment that resulted from the camps.
        • Share findings and discuss whether or not the internment camps should have been used after hearing both sides. 
      • What alternatives could the U.S. government have used instead of internment camps?

  • State Your View
    • Should constitutional safeguards given to United States citizens be ignored or bypassed in the name of national defense?

Online Resources for Internment and Suspension of Civil Liberties during Wartime

3. ENGAGE: What Individuals Who Fought for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Should Have a National Holiday or Day of Recognition?

There are currently 12 legal federal holidays in the U.S.: New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday, Inauguration Day (once every 4 years), George Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Juneteenth National Independence Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Armistice Day/Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. 

There are also a number of what the National Constitution Center calls civic holidays intended to honor America's past, including Constitution Day (September 17), Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November), Bill of Rights Day (December 15), Law Day (May 1), Flag Day (June 14), and Earth Day (April 22).

Meanwhile, there are individuals and groups who fought for civil rights and civil liberties who remain neglected or omitted from history books and state-level history curriculum frameworks. Check out the Fighting for Justice series of picture books presenting the stories of civil rights change makers; the first two books are Fred Korematsu Speaks Out (2017) and Biddy Mason Speaks Out (2019).

What additional holidays or days of recognition should be established to celebrate and honor change-making individuals and groups?

Indigenous People's Day and International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

In 2021, more than 50 cities and states celebrated Indigenous People's Day (Running Strong for American Indian Youth) along with or as a replacement for Columbus Day. August 9 is the United Nations-sponsored International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples that focuses attention on the needs, rights, and historical mistreatment of indigenous communities around the world.

Fred Korematsu 

In 1942, a 23-year-old Japanese American named Fred Korematsu refused an order to move to one of the government’s wartime internment camps. He was arrested, convicted, and jailed for his actions. Along with two other resistors, he appealed his case to the Supreme Court which upheld his conviction. That conviction was eventually overturned in 1983.

Photo of Fred Minoru and Gordon.png
"Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu"
by family of Fred T. Korematsu is licensed under CC BY 2.0

To honor his fight for civil rights and civil liberties, Fred Korematsu Day was enacted in California in 2010. It was the first state-wide day in the United States to be named after an Asian American. Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida have since passed laws honoring Fred Korematsu to perpetuity. Learn more at It's Fred Korematsu Day: Celebrating a Foe of U.S. Internment Camps, and Honoring a Japanese-American Who Fought Against Internment Camps.

National Women's Holiday

Since none of the legal federal holidays honor women, a national women's holiday has been proposed for August 26, the date of the signing of the 19th Amendment. Other ideas for a holiday for women's rights include March 8, International Women's Day or February 15, Susan B. Anthony's birthday (which is already a holiday in California, New York, West Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin).

What national holiday would you create to honor the accomplishments of women and the struggle for women's rights?

Over-Looked or Little-Known Days of Recognition

Have you heard of these important, but not always well-known days of recognition?

Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, Ft. Keogh, Montana
"Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry" | Public Domain

The Politics of Holidays and Recognitions

Proposals to add new holidays generate strong political disagreements. Some lawmakers and public policy advocacy groups object to giving government workers another paid day off. For example, in voting against making Juneteenth a state holiday in Connecticut, one Republican state legislator noted that state workers could take 46 paid days off a year—15 vacation days, 15 sick days, three personal days and now 13 holidays, adding “Nine weeks! I don’t see anyone in the private sector getting that much time off with pay” ("Juneteenth is Not a Legal Holiday in Most States," Pew Trusts, June 17, 2022).

State days of recognition, in contrast to holidays, do not necessarily mean a paid day-off for state workers.

Efforts to honor individuals for their significant, but long overlooked historical efforts are underway throughout the United States:

Students can be effective advocates for honoring those who fought for civil rights and civil liberties. In the early 1980s, students from Oakland Tech High School class of 1981 - "The Apollos" - engaged in a four-year campaign to get the state of California to establish a day honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their efforts were successful when California became the fourth state to have a MLK Day (the national holiday was established in 1986). In 2109, students at the school wrote and performed a play about the efforts of the Apollos (California High School Students Who Lobbied for State MLK Holiday Honored in Oakland Tech Play).

Younger students can be actively involved too, as in this example: Amherst Elementary School Students Launch Campaign for Indigenous People's Day.

Who would you nominate for a National Holiday or Day of Recognition for efforts to achieve civil rights and civil liberties?

Suggested Learning Activities

  • Present Your Analysis
    • Why has the U.S. failed to fully recognize individuals like Fred Korematsu who stood up for American ideals?

  • Nominate an Individual or Group for a State or National Day of Recognition
    • Select an individual and write a persuasive essay (or design a video) to send to a local or national elected official.

Standard 4.2 Conclusion

In the United States, every citizen has rights and responsibilities as a member of a democratic society. Non-citizens have rights too, although they differ from those of citizens. INVESTIGATE explored the specific rights of citizens and non-citizens. UNCOVER focused on the suspension of citizenship rights during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. ENGAGE asked whether days of recognition should be given to Fred Korematsu or other women and men who fought to establish and preserve civil rights and civil liberties throughout American history.

This content is provided to you freely by Equity Press.

Access it online or download it at https://equitypress.org/democracy/rightsres.