The study reproduced below of the history of US immigration, citizenship and voting laws, compiled by Jana Breziel of the University of Cincinatti and reproduced by ACLA.net, shows that Donald Trump’s suggestion of a ban on Muslim immigration or entry to the US is part of a practice of racial discrimination that goes back almost to the American revolution.
To begin with Blacks were the main target of race-based laws but they were replaced – or perhaps joined would be the appropriate word – by Asians, especially Chinese, and then by South Asians, Japanese and Filipinos, whose entry to the US was either barred entirely or subject to severe restriction.
During World War II, after America’s involvement in Vietnam, and under Cold War pressures these restrictions were gradually relaxed or removed and the new targets became illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.
These various discriminatory Acts and measures could have been vetoed or opposed by the White House of the relevant day but never were. For Obama White House to declare Trump ‘unfit’ to become president is therefore a statement too far; he is part of an old American tradition.
“The Naturalization Act of 1790 passed by Congress employed explicitly racial criteria limiting citizenship to ‘free white persons’; after this act was successfully challenged on behalf of blacks after the Civil War, ‘Asian immigrants became the most significant “other” in terms of citizenship eligibility’ (Lesser, 85)” (Wong 5).
Critical race theorists and legal scholars have also explored the implications 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). Harris’s essay explores the valences’ legally, historically, and ideologically of “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 Rights – Citizenship Granted to freed African Americans (ratified in 1868).
Amendment 15: Black Suffrage – Voting rights extended to African Americans (ratified in 1870).
Asian Exclusion Acts: barring immigrants from citizenship & ownership of property.
“Though Congress never enacted a law that specifically names ‘Asians’ or ‘Orientals’ as an Asiatic racial category, legal theorist Neil Gotanda has argued that the sequence of laws in 1882, 1917, 1924 and 1934 that excluded immigrants from China, Japan, India and the Philippines, combined with the series of repeal acts overturning these exclusions, construct a common racial categorization for Asians that depended on consistently racializing each national-origin group as ‘nonwhite'” (Lowe 19).
Chinese Exclusion Acts / Immigration Exclusion Act (1882) – prohibited 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)
“A geographical criterion was used to exclude Asian Indians, because their racial or ethnic status was unclear” (Lowe, 180-81fn14).
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
“The Immigration Act of 1924 barred entry of ‘aliens ineligible to citizenship’; because Japanese and other Asians were barred by the 1790 naturalization law stipulating that ‘whites only’ could be naturalized as citizens, the 1924 act totally excluded them from immigration” (Lowe 180-81fn14).
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 ‘aliens 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.
“The Magnuson Act had three significant parts: it repealed the Exclusion Act of 1882; it established a quota for Chinese immigrants; and it made Chinese eligible for citizenship, negating the 1790 racial bar” (Lowe 20).
Asian Exclusion Repeal Acts (1946, for Filipino and East Indian)
Mc Carran-Walter Act (1952): abolished the 1917 ‘Asia Barred Zone’; allowed for immigration into the United States based on ethnic quotas.
“Quotas were not specified by national origin, but through racialized ethnic categories such as ‘Chinese.’ In other words, the McCarran-Walter Act provided that one hundred ethnic Chinese persons enter annually; these Chinese originated from diverse nations. Even laws that repealed exclusion acts continued to ‘racialize’ Asians. . . .” (Lowe 193fn53).
“The McCarran-Walter Act, an expression of the cold war era, legislated strict quotas, created an area called the ‘Asia-Pacific triangle’ based on a strategically territorial mapping, and contained language delineating the exclusion of and right to deport ‘any alien who has engaged or has had purpose to engage in activities “prejudicial to the public interest” or “subversive to national security”‘” (Lowe 9).
Immigrant Act (1965): eliminated immigration quotas, establishing new criteria for immigrants.
“The 1965 immigration act removed ‘natural origins’ as the basis of American immigration legislation and was framed as an amendment to the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act. The 1965 act abolished ‘national origin’ quotas and specified seven preferences for Eastern Hemisphere quota immigrants: (1) unmarried adult sons and daughters of citizens; (2) spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents; (3) professionals, scientists, and artists of ‘exceptional ability’; (4) married adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; (5) siblings of adult citizens; (6) workers, skilled and unskilled, in occupations for which labor was in short supply in the United States; and (7) refugees from Communist-dominated countries or those uprooted by natural catastrophe. [Ö] Since 1965, two million Asian quota immigrants, two million nonquota immigrants, and one million refugees outside the seventh preference have arrived” (Lowe 181-82fn16).
“In the period since 1965, legal regulations on immigration include Asians among a broad segment of racialized immigrants, while policing has refocused particularly on ‘alien’ and ‘illegal’ Mexican and Latino workers. Asian Americans, with the history of being constituted as ‘aliens,’ have the collective ‘memory’ to be critical of the notion of citizenship and the liberal democracy it upholds; Asian American culture is the site of ‘remembering,’ in which the recognition of Asian immigrant history in the present predicament of Mexican and Latino immigrants is possible” (Lowe 21).
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)
“Another distinguishing feature of the post-1965 Asian immigration is the predominance of immigrants from South Korea, the Phillipines, South Vietnam, and Cambodia, countries deeply affected by U.S. colonialism, war and neocolonialism” (Lowe 16).
“Despite the usual assumptions that Asians immigrate from stable, continuous, ‘traditional’ cultures, most of the post-1965 Asian immigrants come from societies already disrupted by colonialism and distorted by the upheavals of neocolonial capitalism and war” (Lowe 16).
Immigrant Reform and Control Act (1986)
Immigration Act (1990)
“As the Immigrant Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Immigration Act of 1990 attest, however, immigration legislation continues to be the site for the resurgence of contradiction between capital and the state, between economic and political imperatives, between the ‘push-pull’ of markets and the maintenance of civil rights and is riddled with conflicts as the state attempts to control through law what is also an economically driven phenomenon. In the 1990s, recent immigration policies and de facto immigration policies express this contradiction around the ‘crisis’ of illegal immigration, particularly from Mexico and Latin America (though Haitian and Chinese examples have also emerged)” (Lowe 20).
California’s Proposition 187:
“California’s Proposition 187 passed in 1994, attempts to deny schooling and medical care to illegal immigrants; although the referendum does not specify immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, its execution would certainly be aimed at these groups” (Lowe 20).
“Since the 1950s, undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin America have provided much of the low-wage labor in agriculture, construction, hotels, restaurants, and domestic services in the western and southwestern United States. The wages and working conditions of these jobs do not attract U.S. workers: state policy will not legislate the improvement of labor conditions, but neither does it declare officially that the U.S. economy systematically produces jobs that only third world workers find attractive. The result is an officially disavowed and yet unofficially mandated, clandestine movement of illegal immigration, which addresses the economyís need for low-wage labor but whose dehumanization of migrant workers is politically contradictory” (Lowe 21).