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Comparative Literature
Good & Evil

Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960

Spring 2000

History of Migration and Immigration Laws in the United States

General Premises of U.S. Citizenship:

"From a legal perspective, the peoples previously known as Orientals and now designated as Asian Americans have
almost all, at one time or another, been excluded from U.S. citizenship. (Recent refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia in the wake of Vietnam War constitute an exception.)" (From Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993, 5).

"The McCarran-Walter Act establishes the basic laws of U.S. citizenship and immigration. This act, also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, has undergone several changes since its adoption. Originally, the law admitted only a certain number of immigrants of each nationality. But a law passed by Congress in 1965 gave preference to immigrants with skills needed in the United States and to close relatives of U.S. citizens. A 1990 law continued these preferences. Aliens must be admitted as legal immigrants to get U.S. citizenship. People who flee to the United States after being officially certified as refugees may receive immigrant status" (World Book Encyclopedia)Naturalization Act (1790)

"The Naturalization Act of 1790 passed by Congress employed explicitly racial criteria limiting citizenship to ëfree white personsí; after this act was successfully challenged on behalf of blacks after the Civil War, ëAsian immigrants became the most significant ëotherí in terms of citizenship eligibilityí (Lesser, 85)" (Wong 5).

Critical race theorists and legal scholars have also explored the imbrications of race, citizenship and the American legal system. In addition to whiteness defining the legal status of a person as slave or free (in the pre-Emancipation period), Cheryl I Harris argues that "white identity conferred tangible and economically valuable benefits" and was "central to national identity and to the republican project" (280, 285). Harrisís essay explores the valencesólegally, historically, and ideologicallyóof "whiteness as property," and she extends this analysis to the changing definitions of citizenship as introduced in the Naturalization Act of 1790: "The franchise, for example, was broadened to extend voting rights to unpropertied white men at the same time that black voters were specifically disenfranchised, arguably shifting the property required for voting from land to whiteness" (286). [Harris, "Whiteness as Property," from Critical Race Theory].

National Amendments or Prohibitions to Citizenship:

Amendment 14: Civil RightsóCitizenship Granted to freed African Americans (ratified in 1868).

Amendment 15: Black SuffrageóVoting rights extended to African Americans (ratified in 1870).

Asian Exclusion Acts: barring immigrants from citizenship & ownership of property.

Chinese Exclusion Acts / Immigration Exclusion Act (1882)óprohibited citizenship for Chinese immigrants. Subsequent acts reinforcing the exclusion of Chinese immigrant were passed in 1884, 1886 and 1888.

"In 1882, 1884, 1886, and 1888, Congress passed Chinese exclusion acts, suspending immigration of Chinese laborers and barring reentry of all Chinese laborers who departed and did not return before the passage of the Act" (Lowe 180-81fn14).

Immigration Act of 1917: Exclusion of Asian Indians (1917)

Amendment 19: Woman Suffrageóextended voting rights to U.S. women citizens (ratified in 1920). 

Ozawa v. United States (1922)

"In the Ozawa v. United States case (1922), the Supreme Court ruled against a Japan-born applicant to naturalization (who had lived most of his life in the United States), arguing that had these particular races [like the Japanese] been suggested, the language of the act would have been so varied as to include them in its privileges.í To circumvent the question of color, the Court defined 'white' as 'Caucasian'" (Wong 5).

Supreme Court Decision regarding South Asian Immigrations (1923)

"However, when an immigrant from India, Bhagat Singh Thind, attempted to gain citizenship by arguing that he was Caucasian, the Supreme Court changed its definition again, brushing aside anthropological and historical issues and appealing to the more popular meaning of the term'white' (S. Chan 1991: 94). Furthermore, in its 1923 decision against Thind, the Court invoked the criterion of assimilability to separate the desirable immigrants from the undesirable ones: Asian Indians were distinguished from the swarthy European immigrants, who were deemed 'readily amalgamated' (italics in original) with the immigrants 'already here' (Lesser, 88)" (Wong 5).

Immigrant Act of 1924: Exclusion of Japanese

Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934): Exclusion of Filipinos

U.S. colonization of the Philippines (1898-1946)

The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 cut Filipino immigration to a quota of fifty persons per year, and all Filipinos in the United States were reclassified as 'aliens.' [Ö] The U.S. exclusion of Filipino immigration was continually connected with the issue of Philippine independence from U.S. colonization . . ." (Lowe 181fn14).

Alien Land Laws (1913, 1920, and 1923) "prohibited Asian immigrants from owning land and other forms of property through the legal construction of nonwhites as ëaliens ineligible to citizenship" (Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts 13).

"Asia Barred Zone" (1917)

"The 1917 immigration act denied entry to people from a "barred zone" that included South Asia through Southeast Asia and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but excluded American possessions of the Philippines and Guam" (Lowe 180-81fn14).

Magnuson Act (1943): lifted the barriers to citizenship for most immigrants of Asian origin.

Asian Exclusion Repeal Acts (1946, for Filipino and East Indian)

Mc Carran-Walter Act (1952): abolished the 1917 ëAsia Barred Zoneí; allowed for immigration into the United States based on ethnic quotas.

Immigrant Act (1965): eliminated immigration quotas, establishing new criteria for immigrants.

Three acts have facilitated the immigration and resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees:

Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act (1975)

Refugee Act (1980)

Amerasian Homecoming Act (1987)

Immigrant Reform and Control Act (1986)

Immigration Act (1990)

California's Proposition 187:

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