Naturalization Act 1906: U.S. Citizenship – Only Whites Need Apply


1906 was the next year Americans saw big changes in immigration reform. Many people refer to this period of American history as “progressive” and/or “industrial”. I suppose both are true, depending on how you define them. As a social movement, progressives at this time believed government could be used as a tool to fix what was wrong with society. The policies of President Theodore Roosevelt reflected this ideology. Many of the ills facing society were a result of industrialization, such as: child labor, corporate greed, unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the workplace. One of the many pieces of legislation the Roosevelt administration delivered to the American people was the Naturalization Act of 1906, approved June 29, 1906. Its title indicates specifically the purpose of the laws contained within the pages that follow, the establishment of a government agency of immigration and naturalization with uniformity in how immigrants are received and naturalized.

  • Sec. 1 – Authorizes the new name for the agency, “Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization”. Designates the Secretary of Commerce and Labor as controlling director. Upon entry into the U.S. all aliens are to register and the immigrant will receive a certificate of registry.
  • Sec. 2 – According to budget appropriations, the Secretary of Commerce and Labor is authorized to provide for the Bureau necessary office space, staff and supplies.
  • Sec. 3 – Court jurisdictions are designated and will be furnished with necessary forms by the Bureau.
  • Sec. 4 – Conditions for citizenship are stipulated:
  1. Declaration on oath before clerk of court that, at least two years prior, and after reaching the age of eighteen years, it was his “bona fide” intention to become a citizen of the United States. Any allegiance to any foreign power is renounced forever, and such power is specifically named.
  2. Within a 2-7 year time window after the declaration is made, the immigrant must file a petition in his own handwriting stating his full name and address, occupation, birth place and date, place of origin of immigration, arrival location within the U.S., name of port and vessel he arrived in, time and place and name of court of declaration, and, if married, name of wife and any children. He must deny he is an anarchist and polygamist (the polygamy inclusion probably had to do with sentiments towards Mormons who were believed to be infidels and disloyal to the country because of their practice of polygamy). He must state his intention to become a U.S. citizen and renounce forever any allegiance to any other foreign power. He must reveal any denial for citizenship rendered by any U.S. court and on what grounds and prove if such denial has been resolved and removed. Two U.S. citizens, acting as credible witnesses, must provide affidavits declaring personal acquaintance of at least five continuous years with the applicant and attest to the applicant’s good moral character and qualifications to become a citizen. The petition must be filed with a court clerk.
  3. Applicant must make open court declaration on oath that he supports the Constitution and absolutely renounces allegiance to any foreign power, name that specific foreign power, and declare his support and defense of the U.S. Constitution against all foreign and domestic enemies.
  4. The court must be satisfied that the applicant has resided in the U.S. for a minimum of five continuous years and has behaved as a person of good moral character reflecting the principles of the Constitution. Two witnesses must testify to corroborate these facts.
  5. Applicant must renounce any hereditary title of nobility.
  6. After making declaration of intent, if applicant dies before becoming a citizen, by complying with the laws of this Act, his widow and children may become naturalized.
  • Sec. 5 – After petition is filed, the court clerk will make public notice of final hearing and provide, if necessary, summons or subpoenas for any witnesses.
  • Sec. 6 – Naturalization hearing dates are fixed by the court after 90 days and cannot be held thirty days prior to any general election.
  • Sec. 7 – Prohibited from naturalization are polygamists and anarchists.
  • Sec. 8 – Prohibited from naturalization are people who cannot speak English, except for those physically unable or for applicants who are homesteaders on public lands.
  • Sec. 9 – Final hearing will be in open court.
  • Sec. 10 – Exceptions to the five year residency requirement require the testimony of two witnesses.
  • Sec. 11 – U.S. has the right to cross examine the applicant and any witnesses and to produce evidence and witnesses regarding any opposition to naturalization.
  • Sec. 12 – Outlines duties and time requirements of court clerk with regard to filing, duplicating and issuing required documentation as well as establishes penalties for failure of duty.
  • Sec. 13 – Outlines duties of court clerks regarding the collection of fees for receiving, filing and issuing required documentation, subpoenas and court costs and the disbursement of collected monies to the various U.S. governmental departments with fiscal responsibility.
  • Sec. 14 – All documents must be bound in chronological order and consecutively numbered, blah, blah, blah, and various other boring details of handling the paperwork.
  • Sec. 15 – Outlines guidelines in which U.S. district attorneys are authorized to cancel certificate of citizenship on legitimate grounds of fraud.
  • Sec. 16 – Establishes punishment for participating in any fraud related to naturalization by fine and imprisonment.
  • Sec. 17 – Establishes punishment for participating in the counterfeit of citizenship documents by fine and imprisonment
  • Sec. 18 – Declares it a felony for anyone to issue a certificate of citizenship contrary to the provisions of this Act, and punishable by fine and imprisonment
  • Sec. 19 – Anyone found guilty of possession of a blank certificate of citizenship with unlawful intent to use, can be punished by fine and imprisonment
  • Sec. 20 – Any court officer who mismanages finances regarding naturalization can be punished by fine and imprisonment.
  • Sec. 21 – Court officers who demand money that are not lawful fees can be punished by fine and imprisonment.
  • Sec. 22 – Court clerks who certify a petitioner or witness was present when they were not, can be punished by fine and imprisonment
  • Sec. 23 – Anyone who is naturalized and knows they are guilty of violating any part of this Act, as well as any accomplice, can be punished by fine and imprisonment.
  • Sec. 24 – Statute of limitations regarding naturalization crimes is five years.
  • Sec. 25 – Any crimes regarding naturalization prior to the passage of this Act, existing laws remain in full force and effect.
  • Sec. 26 – Any laws inconsistent with this Act are repealed.
  • Sec. 27 – Establishes wording and format of forms to be used in naturalization proceedings: Declaration of Intent, Petition for Naturalization, Affidavit, Certificate of Naturalization, Stub of Certificate of Naturalization.
  • Sec. 28 – Secretary of Commerce and Labor has authority to make rules as necessary to fulfill duties of this Act, including all required documentation.
  • Sec. 29 – Declares appropriated provisions for carrying out the effects of the Act.
  • Sec. 30 – Exceptions to residency requirements are outlined.
  • Sec. 31 – Act comes into effect 90 days after passage.

Most of this was a whole lot of bureaucratic hoo-haw. What did all that hoo-haw boil down to? What is the meaning of this all in a nutshell? It mostly meant paperwork, paperwork, paperwork and some time in the pokey if you didn’t do your paperwork right.

At the time this Act passed into law, the following people could become naturalized U.S. citizens:  free, white guys and descendants of black slaves born in the U.S. The following people were banned from immigration, thus from citizenship: all Chinese, convicted felons (unless it was a political crime). This new legislation adds three more classes of people to the “banned” list for citizenship: polygamists, anarchists, and non-English speakers. However, for the first time women are specifically mentioned as eligible for citizenship in number 6 of Section 4. Score one for women!

You would think Sec. 26 may now mean Chinese can immigrate. Perhaps this is a brave, new era of open-mindedness for the U.S. Well, in 1922 this specific law was put to the test in the Supreme Court case of Takao Ozawa v. U.S. Mr. Ozawa lived in the U.S. for 20 years. He was a high school graduate, three year college student, had children educated in the U.S., attended church regularly, and English was the language of his household. There was no question he was qualified for citizenship, yet he was denied. Why?

It seems it all came down to the definition of the word “alien” and clarifying which classes of aliens qualified for citizenship and which classes were banned from citizenship. Justice Sutherland explained in his official court opinion: “In all of the naturalization acts from 1790 to 1906 the privilege of naturalization was confined to white persons… (with the addition in 1870 of those of African nativity and descent), although the exact wording of the various statutes was not always the same. If Congress in 1906 desired to alter a rule so well and so long established it may be assumed that its purpose would have been definitely disclosed and its legislation to that end put in unmistakable terms”.

He went on to explain that the court must assume the point of view of the original framers of the first U.S. immigration law and the subsequent law that extended citizenship privilege to descendants of African slaves. The court must consider that Asians were not specifically excluded because the original framers did not have the perspective to consider that ethnicity to ever be a possibility as immigrants on U.S. soil. Thus, the original framers did not include wording with regard to the Asiatic races. However, since “free, white person” is specified, we must assume the original framers intended for the United States of America to only be populated by Caucasian citizens. No other race had that privilege except for the descendants of U.S. African slaves. And, until some legislator comes along and lawfully redefines the term “alien”, the courts will continue to define it as it was originally meant to be defined, a free, white guy.

Although the U.S. continued to bamboozle non-Caucasian immigrants by keeping its borders open to all races and taking full advantage of any way they may help the nation prosper, by the time poor, non-white immigrants realized they had been had and would never be a part of the privileged class of U.S. citizens because they were the wrong ethnicity, it was too late. By then they were American through and through, as well as their spouses and children, and, maybe,even their grandchildren. No matter how good their moral character may have been, not matter how much they may have contributed to the growth of our nation, if they just weren’t “white” enough, well, too bad. Second class residency status was the best they could hope for.

As I peruse the annals of immigration history I keep saying to myself, “The next immigration bill, now THAT’S gonna be the one that truly reflects America as being a nation that treats all people equal.” Hey, the gringa can hope, cain’t she?

Sources:

Hansan, J.E. (2011). The Progressive Era. Retrieved 6/16/15 from http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/eras/progressive-era/

The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 1, No. 1, Supplement: Official Documents (Jan., 1907), pp. 31-47. Retrieved 6/16/15 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2212339

TAKAO OZAWA v. US. Retrieved 6/16/15 from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/260/178.html

Photo credit: www.chickasaw.tv

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gringaofthebarrio

A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

3 thoughts on “Naturalization Act 1906: U.S. Citizenship – Only Whites Need Apply”

  1. I wonder if that “too late” part is the decisive factor. We forget there was a flourishing, privileged black middle class in the Philadelphia of 1831. But with social position in an expanding civilization, the name of the game is getting there first, then keeping it among family and friends.

    Liked by 1 person

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