“The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law”

This week’s reading looked at a lot of concepts on race and how the United States tried to use it to prevent certain people from entering the country. The reading made me think further on how arbitrary lines between races are, especially when removing nationality and culture, and how these distinctions that US politicians made were either nation-based or based on certain characteristics. The section looking at how whiteness was associated with mostly European people is not new, but I didn’t know prior that US legislation was designed to permit white people that happen to live in other nations still count toward a nation’s immigration quota. It demonstrates the obvious goal that the United States wanted to achieve which was to make American identity be clearly connected to whiteness.

The people that were permitted to naturalization was so specific that people that weren’t to some extent white or European had little chance of being able to be naturalized. It was interesting to read how people attempted to fit in the criteria of white to become naturalized, as it showed how even people enforcing this legislation did not find a clear distinction that made someone white. The ability of Mexicans to naturalize is one of these examples and is interesting as it does highlight how racial distinctions are complex and arbitrary especially when it’s attempting to categorize someone who is of mixed race. It, to me, most shows how the United States actively pushed against anybody that doesn’t feel white or represent what they want their nationality to be associated with.

It was in many ways frustrating to read this week’s reading because the topic is about events that occurred nearly a century ago but many of the sentiments of it still exist. While we may not be actively stopping everyone that is non-white from entering, there is still a stigma associated with certain groups of immigrants and even attempts at legislation to remove people of those groups of people. There are no active attempts to make the United States a fully white nation but there is still a belief that certain immigrants should not be allowed. These ideas still exist and reading on these forms of legislation that prevented people from entering the nation or naturalization solidifies the notion that these anti-immigration sentiments are more often than not rooted in racial prejudice.

3 thoughts on ““The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law”

  1. I also thought it was interesting just how arbitrary the legal definitions of race were! I am not very well versed in the law or legal cases, but I thought it was interesting to read about how court cases helped determine race and nationality, like invoking the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo or ruling that complexion does not determine race. I also thought the issue of intermarriage and people who were mixed race was interesting, especially as the Quota Board essentially ignored it when involving Euro-Americans because it disturbed the absolutism of racial ideas at the time.

  2. I was frustrated reading this article as well because of the fact that the very laws that were in place still have foothold in our thoughts of immigration today. Before this class, I wasn’t super familiar with immigration law, but reading about the nitty-gritty restrictions made it seem virtually impossible for immigrants to get here because of the quotas. The author talked about how race was never explicitly included in these laws, but like you said, the nation-based stigmas and characteristics were what limited immigrants at this time.

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