Elusive Citizenship

Immigration, Asian Americans, and the Paradox of Civil Rights

225 pages

June, 2004

ISBN: 9780814767146



Also available in



Part of the Critical America series


John S. W. Park is Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

All books by John S. W. Park

Since the late nineteenth century, federal and state rules governing immigration and naturalization have placed persons of Asian ancestry outside the boundaries of formal membership. A review of leading cases in American constitutional law regarding Asians would suggest that initially, Asian immigrants tended to evade exclusionary laws through deliberate misrepresentations of their identities or through extralegal means. Eventually, many of these immigrants and their descendants came to accept prevailing legal norms governing their citizenship in the United States. In many cases, this involved embracing notions of white supremacy.

John S. W. Park argues that American rules governing citizenship and belonging remain fundamentally unjust, even though they suggest the triumph of a "civil rights" vision, where all citizens share the same basic rights. By continuing to privilege members over non-members in ways that are politically popular, these rules mask injustices that violate principles of fairness. Importantly, Elusive Citizenship also suggests that politically and socially, full membership in American society remains closely linked with participation in exclusionary practices that isolate racial minorities in America.


  • "Lucid and compelling, Park's book is essential reading for those who want to understand the limits of American civil rights discourse-and post-September 11, that should be all of us."

    —Angela Harris, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley

  • "Park rigorously and elegantly pursues a vexing socio-legal issue: Who belongs in America, and why does U.S. immigration law shape contradictory public responses to this question? Examining Asian immigrants who 'evaded, fought, and embraced American law' in the face of government treatment that was sometimes welcoming and most often hostile, Park generates deep insights into a conflictual legal regime that continues to foster treatment of present-day immigrants of color (post-Proposition 187 and September 11) simultaneously as economic contributors and social pariahs."

    —Eric Yamamoto, School of Law, University of Hawaii

  • ”In many ways, this book is perfect....This is an important book that succeeds on its own terms and will be well used in immigration and legal history as well as Asian American studies.”

    Journal of Asian Studies

  • "Although he is a legal scholar, his book is more than academic. The issues that Park raises are at the heart of what it means to be a diverse democracy- or not."


  • "A well-executed interdisciplinary work combining the theoretical and the empirical in ways that benefit the understanding of both."

    The Law and Politics Book Review