Impossible subjects : illegal aliens and the making of modern America


    • Ngai, Mae M.


Impossible subjects : illegal aliens and the making of modern America

Mae M. Ngai

(Politics and society in twentieth-century America)

Princeton University Press, c2004

  • : cloth

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Includes bibliographical references (p. [357]-368) and index



This volume traces the origins of the "illegal alien" in American law and society, explaining why and how illegal migration became the central problem in US immigration policy - a process that profoundly shaped ideas and practices about citizenship, race and state authority in the 20th century. Mae Ngai offers a close reading of the legal regime of restriction that commenced in the 1920s - its statutory architecture, judicial genealogies, administrative enforcement, differential treatment of European and non-European migrants and long-term effects. In historical portraits, Ngai peoples her study with the Filipinos, Mexicans, Japanese and Chinese who comprised, variously, illegal aliens, alien citizens, colonial subjects and imported contract workers. She shows that immigration restriction, particularly national-origin and numerical quotas, re-mapped the nation both by creating new categories of racial difference and by emphasizing as never before the nation's contiguous land boarders and their patrol. This yielded the "illegal alien", a new legal and political subject whose inclusion in the nation was a social reality but a legal impossibility - a subject without rights and excluded from citizenship. Questions of fundamental legal status created new challenges for liberal democratic society and have directly informed the politics of multiculturalism and national belonging in our time. Ngai's analysis is based on archival research, including records of the US Boarder Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service.


List of Figures and Illustrations xi List of Tables xiii Acknowledgments xv Note on Language and Terminology xix Introduction Illegal Aliens: A Problem of Law and History 1 PART I: THE REGIME OF QUOTAS AND PAPERS 15 One The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 and the Reconstruction of Race in Immigration Law 21 Two Deportation Policy and the Making and Unmaking of Illegal Aliens 56 PART II: MIGRANTS AT THE MARGINS OF LAW AND NATION 91 Three From Colonial Subject to Undesirable Alien: Filipino Migration in the Invisible Empire 96 Four Braceros, "Wetbacks," and the National Boundaries of Class 127 PART III: WAR, NATIONALISM, AND ALIEN CITIZENSHIP 167 Five The World War II Internment of Japanese Americans and the Citizenship Renunciation Cases 175 Six The Cold War Chinese Immigration Crisis and the Confession Cases 202 PART IV: PLURALISM AND NATIONALISM IN POST-WORLD WAR II IMMIGRATION REFORM 225 Seven The Liberal Critique and Reform of Immigration Policy 227 Epilogue 265 Appendix 271 Notes 275 Archival and Other Primary Sources 357 Index 369

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