LAW & CRIME

American by Birth: Wong Kim Ark and the Battle for Citizenship

Univ. Pr. of Kansas. May 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780700631926. $37.50. LAW
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When the United States was founded, only white men who owned property were granted citizenship. With each new century, this right has been extended to more people, but never without a fight, write Nackenoff (political science, Swarthmore Coll.) and Novkov (political science and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York). Born in San Francisco in 1873 to parents of Chinese descent, Wong Kim Ark was returning to the U.S. after a trip abroad when he was refused reentry because, the government alleged, he was a Chinese immigrant. The resulting Supreme Court case, United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898), established that anyone born in the U.S. was automatically granted citizenship, regardless of their parents’ origins. Nackenoff and Novkov tackle the complexities of naturalization and birthright citizenship in a landscape that continues to be seeped in racism and imperialism. They clearly draw parallels to current immigration practices and challenges to birthright citizenship. Though the book’s pace is somewhat slow—necessarily, given its detailed account of the case—this work will engage readers.
VERDICT A riveting and much-needed glimpse into the history of Asian American communities and the racism that persists to this day; a valuable addition to legal and social science collections.
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