The Racial Impact on the Citizenship of the United States
It seems to be common knowledge that the United States is a country of immigrants. The “American Dream” carries thousands people’s hope and encourage them to work hard to build their own homes and establish a sense of belonging in the land of freedom and democracy. However, the country of immigrants never fully opened its door to all kinds of people. A question has existed since the nation was established: Who can legally become a citizen of the United States? The answer has been changing over time. In the period from 1790s to 1920s, the United States used race as a fundamental tool to determine who can legally become a citizen by implementing the Naturalization Act of 1790, the Fourteenth Amendment and several Supreme Court cases. In addition to race, non-racial requirements, such as moral fitness and language proficiency, also played a critical role. Specifically during this period, unless born in U.S., Asian ethnic group could not be granted citizenship because of the racial difference with European Caucasians, in which race was essentially considered as a social construction rather than a biological categorization. In the history of the United States, the Naturalization Act of 1790 established naturalization as a right afforded to "Free White Persons." Starting from this law, race became the centerpiece in discussions over the right to citizenship. In addition, after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, people could gain American citizenship not only by naturalization but also by birth. The three legal cases to be analyzed below demonstrate different perspectives in understanding the naturalization law and the racial impact in gaining citizenship of the United States. The Case of Wong Kim Ark in 1898 illustrates that people who born in United States had the only privilege to gain citizenship without racial identification during the period that Chinese Exclusion Acts were enacted. The...
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