What are Alien Land Laws?
Most people agree that discrimination is wrong, but surprisingly, it is not always against the law. As of 2007, Florida is the last state with such race discriminatory language that remains written into the law.
Alien land laws specifically targeted Asian Americans for discrimination. These laws were designed to prevent Asian Americans from participating in the economy. These were harsh laws, sometimes brutally enforced, and sometimes enforced through criminal punishment.
The United States specifically limited immigration of Asians from 1862-1965. During that span, more than a dozen states passed laws banning Asian immigrants from owning and inheriting property.
California was the first in 1913. The prohibition moved east with states taking the language directly from federal naturalization law. The U. S. Immigration Act of 1924 had prohibited citizenship to Japanese, Chinese, Indian and other Asian and Pacific Island immigrants. Immigrants who violated the laws faced imprisonment, fines and seizure of their properties.
The effort to get rid of the measure where it remained was revived in 2000 by a group of University of Cincinnati law review students who discovered only four states sill had it on the books, Wyoming, Kansas, New Mexico and Florida in 2000. In 2001, Wyoming and Kansas repealed their anti-Japanese laws not long after they became aware of them.
But Florida and New Mexico’s laws were in the state constitutions, requiring voter, not lawmakers, approval to have them struck. It is more difficult to repeal them because they are in the states’ constitutions. Voters in New Mexico defeated the proposed amendment first time by a vote of 46 to 54 percent in 2006 and then 70% approved by the voters over in 2006. Leaving Florida is the final state with the law.
Federal Naturalization law
Note: The “aliens ineligible for citizenship” was defined in the Immigration law:
The original Naturalization Act of 1790 provided that “[a]ny alien being a free white person… may be admitted to become a citizen…” This was amended in 1870 after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to provide that naturalization was permitted only of “aliens, being free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” Others were referred to as “aliens ineligible to citizenship.”
Alien Land Laws
The period 1898 to 1907 saw great numbers of Japanese immigrants coming to America. By 1910, the Japanese were the largest minority group in Washington State. Although the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement had limited Japanese immigration to America, anti-Asian feelings ran high.
Anti-Japanese prejudice was common in the early 1900′s on the West Coast, especially in California. Some whites feared that the immigrants would take away their jobs, while others, notably farmers, were resentful of the bountiful crops raised by the Japanese farmers.
The first generation of Japanese immigrants (Issie) arrived in the Imperial Valley in 1904 to serve as migrant agricultural laborers. They climbed to the ranks of crew bosses and foremen, then moved to share-cropping and eventually leased, and even owned, their land (until the 1913 Alien Land Law prohibiting Japanese ownership of farmland.)
1913, California Gov. Hiram Johnson signed the historic Alien Land Law. The Alien Land Laws were statutes passed by various states between 1920 and 1950 that banned “aliens ineligible to citizenship” from owning, leasing or inheriting land. The language used in these laws carefully avoided direct reference to Asian immigrants, though there was little ambiguity of their intent.
Prior to 1900’s, Immigration law of the day extended the privilege of naturalization only to “free white persons” or “persons of African nativity or descent.” Asian immigrants were classified as neither, and thus were denied American citizenship. The 1924 Immigration Act not only barred Asians from immigrating to the United States, but also made those of Asian descent already in the United States ineligible for naturalization. Whites and blacks, however, could still become naturalized.
The California Alien Land Law of 1913, revised in 1920, prevented immigrants from owning and leasing their own land, making it a difficult struggle for those who made their living as farmers.
Alien Land Laws soils Florida state
Back then, Florida racists were mostly worried that Japanese farmers, 30,000 of whom had been tossed off their farms by alien land laws in California, would come east.
In 1926, an innocuous-sounding phrase was tacked onto a constitutional provision guaranteeing “all natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights among which are the right to enjoy and defend life, and liberty, to pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry and to acquire, possess and protect property.”
Similar acts were passed in other states. State of Florida was one of few states that adapted this language into its Constitution in 1926.