“descendants of races indigenous to the Western Hemisphere” in the Naturalization Act of 1940 (Haney López)

During the war, the United States seemed through some of its laws and social practices to embrace the same racism it was fighting. Both fronts of the war exposed profound inconsistencies between U.S. naturalization law and broader social ideals. These considerations, among others, led Congress to begin a process of piecemeal reform in the laws governing citizenship.

In 1940, Congress opened naturalization to “descendants of races indigenous to the Western Hemisphere.”[39] Apparently, this “additional limitation was designed to ‘more fully cement’ the ties of Pan-Americanism” at a time of impending crisis.[40] In 1943, Congress replaced the prohibition on the naturalization of Chinese persons with a provision explicitly granting them this boon.[41] In 1946, it opened up naturalization to persons from the Philippines and India as well.[42] Thus, at the end of the war, our naturalization law looked like this:

The right to become a naturalized citizen under the provisions of this Act shall extend only to–

(1) white persons, persons of African nativity or descent, and persons of races indigenous to the continents of North or South America or adjacent islands and Filipino persons or persons of Filipino descent;

(2) persons who possess, either singly or in combination, a preponderance of blood of one or more of the classes specified in clause (1);

(3) Chinese persons or persons of Chinese descent; and persons of races indigenous to India; and

(4) persons who possess, either singly or in combination, a preponderance of blood of one or more of the classes specified in clause (3) or, either singly or in combination, as much as one-half blood of those classes and some additional blood of one of the classes specified in clause (1).[43]

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 45.
  1. [39]Act of Oct. 14, 1940, ch. 876, § 303, 54 Stat. 1140
  2. [40]Note, The Nationality Act of 1940, 54 HARV. L. REV. 860, 865 n.40 (1941)
  3. [41]Act of Dec. 17, 1943, ch. 344, § 3, 57 Stat. 600.
  4. [42]Act of July 2, 1946, ch. 534, 60 Stat. 416.
  5. [43]Id.