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The Making of Modern US Citizenship and Alienage: The History of Asian Immigration, Racial Capital, and US Law

February 2023

From The Cambridge University Press:

This article unravels an important historical conjuncture in the making of modern US citizenship and alienage by drawing on the state’s regulation of naturalization as it relates to Asian immigration in the early twentieth century. My primary concern is to examine the socio-legal formations that constructed the thick distinctions between the modern US citizen and alien along the lines of racial difference and racial capital. Specifically, this article argues that Asian immigration to the United States remade the modern US citizen and alien in two significant and interconnected ways. First, it underscores how the adjudication of race in US courts and connected political campaigns re-mapped race in the United States and sharpened the racialization of Asia and Europe in profound ways that ultimately produced immigrants from southern, central, and eastern parts of Asia as the modern US alien. Second, the debate over Asian immigrants’ eligibility to naturalize refashioned legal status as a normative avenue to sustain a regime of racial capital. It cast citizenship as a legal avenue for White men and families to acquire and protect a proprietary interest in citizenship and recast some Asian immigrants as permanent aliens in a period when alienage came to signify disposable immigrant labor. The article concludes by distinguishing how the struggle for US citizenship by Asian immigrants frames the epistemological parameters and political vocabulary of immigration and naturalization reform.