Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Final Post on Filipino American History Month: Alien Land Law, Filipinos and National Status

Allison Brown Tirres's new article (as KJ posted earlier today) reminds us of the ongoing need to examine the intersection between property and immigration law. (As you may be aware, next summer, AALS is hosting a conference/workshop that touches on this very topic).

Many are aware that states passed various alien land Laws in the early 20th century in order to prohibit immigrants who were not eligible for citizenship from owning property. As Keith Aoki argued in his article, No Right to Own? The Early Twentienth Century 'Alien Land Laws' as a Prelude to Internment, many of these alien land laws (such as Califoria's) were passed specifically to prevent Japanese (who, like other Asians, were racially not eligible to become citizens under the racialized naturalization laws in effect in the U.S. between 1870 and 1952) from owning agricultural land.

Filipinos were also affected by alien land laws, but in a different way. Like many Asians Americans during the early 20th century, Filipinos were also racially ineligible to become citizens. Congress made exceptions to these racial bars for Filipinos such as in 1918 and in 1940 by allowing them to file for citizenship based on military service. For example, the Naturalization Law of 1940 provided that, “The right to become a naturalized citizen under the provisions of this chapter shall extend only to white persons, persons of African nativity or descent, and descendants of races indigenous to the Western Hemisphere; Provided, That nothing in this section shall prevent the naturalization of native-born Filipinos having the honorable service in the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard as specified in section 724." Absent military service, Filipinos continued to be racially ineligible for citizenship, as the Supreme Court decided in Toyota v. United States, 268 U.S. 402, 411 (1945). 

Notably, Filipinos were also barred from citizenship for another reason: they were not "aliens" and therefore, could not naturalize. In Toyota, the Supreme Court noted that after the U.S. acquired the Philippines (and Puerto Rico) in 1898, Filipinos became Philippine citizens and who were entitled to protection of the United States. Importantly, Filipinos owed allegiance to the United States and were thus not aliens. Instead, they were U.S. nationals. 

The convergence of citizenship, nationality and property rights in the Filipino American context became apparent in the case of Alfafara v. Fross, 26 Cal. 2d 358 (1945). In this case, the California Supreme Court relied on the Supreme Court's holding that Filipinos were not aliens to conclude that Filipinos were allowed to own land in California despite the state's alien land law. Specifically, because Filipinos were nationals (and thus not aliens), the prohibition against land ownership did not apply to them. 



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