“Birds of Prey”: The Expansion of US Immigration Law to Puerto Rico and the Philippines

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:45 AM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Julian Lim, Arizona State University
My paper examines the intersections of empire and immigration law in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. Scholars have paid attention to the contested political and legal status of Filipinos and Puerto Ricans within the U.S.’ colonial regime, and their eventual liminal status as “U.S. nationals” who were neither alien nor citizen, but could move freely within the borders of U.S. jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the expansion of U.S. immigration law from the mainland United States to its territories has remained less well known. An emphasis on domestic, nation-bound frameworks in the study of U.S. immigration history has obscured the ways in which U.S. immigration law extended far beyond its immediate borders.

American empire generated a variety of new migration streams and immigration issues, however, for U.S. officials. While increasing numbers of Puerto Ricans and Filipinos set their sights on the mainland United States, colonial officials worried about Chinese migration into the Philippines and the invasion of Puerto Rico by neighboring island residents. Thus not only did U.S. officials seek to regulate the migrations of their newly-acquired colonial subjects, they also redefined the distant borders of entry and exit for those “birds of prey,” as one U.S. immigration official called them in 1900, who sought to use the territories as a stepping-stone to the mainland United States. The expansion of U.S. territorial control thus also demanded, according to colonial officials, the expansion of the U.S.’ increasingly restrictive immigration regulation apparatus.

The paper thus provides a deeper understanding of transnational migration and law in the era of American empire. It begins to show how the laws of immigration were deeply entwined with the laws of empire – both serving as regimes of inclusion and exclusion, of expansion and contraction that ultimately sought to pull the territories into the U.S.’ jurisdictional orbit.