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Elusive Citizenship

Immigration, Asian Americans, and the Paradox of Civil Rights

John Park

Publication Year: 2004

Since the late nineteenth century, federal and state rules governing immigration and naturalization have placed persons of Asian ancestry outside the boundaries of formal membership. A review of leading cases in American constitutional law regarding Asians would suggest that initially, Asian immigrants tended to evade exclusionary laws through deliberate misrepresentations of their identities or through extralegal means. Eventually, many of these immigrants and their descendants came to accept prevailing legal norms governing their citizenship in the United States. In many cases, this involved embracing notions of white supremacy.

John S. W. Park argues that American rules governing citizenship and belonging remain fundamentally unjust, even though they suggest the triumph of a "civil rights" vision, where all citizens share the same basic rights. By continuing to privilege members over non-members in ways that are politically popular, these rules mask injustices that violate principles of fairness. Importantly, Elusive Citizenship also suggests that politically and socially, full membership in American society remains closely linked with participation in exclusionary practices that isolate racial minorities in America.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

This book began at its end, when my brother Edward saw on my desk a seminar paper I had written for Angela Harris at Boalt Hall, and now a version of it appears here as the conclusion for this book. Edward told me to submit the original paper for publication. I did as he suggested (as I’m always inclined to do), and it was subsequently published in the...

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1. “ A Subclass within Our Boundaries”

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pp. 1-7

In June of 1982, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Plyler v. Doe, a case from Texas involving the education of undocumented alien children in that state. Since 1975, the Texas Legislature had authorized the withholding of state funds for the education of undocumented children, and had also allowed local school districts to deny enrollment...

Part I: Theory

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2. Characteristics Arbitrary from a Moral Point of View”

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pp. 11-36

In this section I outline why immigration rules pose significant problems for liberal theory and liberal democratic societies. I argue here that the problems arise, fundamentally, from within liberal theory itself, and from two different types of liberal commitments. On the one hand, liberal theorists have articulated ideas of equality and fairness in a way that rejects...

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3. “ One Body in the State of Nature”

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pp. 37-50

For Locke, one premise seemed obvious: it was clearly just for a commonwealth to protect itself from persons it did not want. This was first because the original creation of a commonwealth, as he saw it, “harmed no one.” Everyone else in the state of nature was still free to make his own commonwealth through mutual consent.1 Of the existing commonwealths...

Part II: Law

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4. “ They Do Not and Will Not Assimilate”

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pp. 53-76

Stephen Johnson Field had a spectacular career. Leaving the relative security of his brother’s law office in New York, he set out for California in 1849 after news of the Gold Rush. A year later, he was elected to the State Legislature, and in 1857, he was appointed to its highest court, then served as Chief Justice only four years later.1 When President Lincoln...

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5. “ Beyond All Reason in Its Severity”

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pp. 77-97

Although Stephen Field and many others may have agreed that the Chinese were undesirable as immigrants, there remained confusion over what ought to happen to the Chinese already residing within the United States. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad, as whites moved into California and other western states in greater numbers, many Chinese migrated in the opposite...

Part III: Homeless Strangers

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6. “ They Will Disappear”

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pp. 101-120

Though the logic of exclusion would extend to other racial and ethnic groups, the Chinese Exclusion Acts and the judicial decisions upholding them had the most devastating effects on Asian immigration. This section attempts to measure some of this devastation. One obvious and immediate consequence of the Chinese Exclusion Acts was that the number of...

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7. “Loyalty Is a Matter of the Heart and Mind”

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pp. 121-139

Largely in response to the spate of race-based disabilities that they faced, especially the Alien Land Law of 1920, Asian immigrants made direct attacks against naturalization rules that restricted American citizenship to “free white persons.” On these occasions, however, Asian protagonists often claimed to be white themselves in an effort to “pass” as loyal, assimilated...

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8. “Outside the Pale of Law”

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pp. 141-158

On November 8, 1994, a clear majority of California voters approved Proposition 187.1 Under the more controversial provisions of the new law, the estimated 1.6 million undocumented aliens in California would be denied public education and all non-emergency medical care.2 In addition, all social service and health-care facilities would be required to report...


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pp. 159-220


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pp. 221-223

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About the Author

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p. 225

John S. W. Park is Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His research interests include American immigration law, Anglo-American political theory, critical race...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768693
E-ISBN-10: 0814768695
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814767146
Print-ISBN-10: 0814767141

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 58846609
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Elusive Citizenship

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Immigrants -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Emigration and immigration law -- United States -- History.
  • Asia -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Asians -- United States -- History.
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