Immigration, Asylum, and Citizenship: A More Holistic Approach

62 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2012 Last revised: 19 Feb 2013

See all articles by Julian Lim

Julian Lim

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: February 14, 2013


Despite obvious overlaps between immigration law, refugee law, and citizenship, legal scholars have tended to disaggregate them, studying them in isolation. This Article brings refugee law in closer conversation with both immigration law and citizenship by presenting the previously unknown history of Pershing’s Chinese refugees: 522 Chinese refugees in northern Mexico who in 1917 gained entry into the United States despite the immigration restrictions of the U.S.’ Chinese Exclusion Act, and in 1921 were granted the right to remain in the country as permanent legal residents.

Using this historical case study, the Article first shows that refugee law would not exist were it not for the presence of exclusions in immigration law in the first place — in particular, race-based exclusions. The Article then demonstrates that immigration law and refugee law work dynamically together to construct what can be thought of as “second-class citizenship” for noncitizens, whereby the refugee admitted into the U.S. comes to occupy a liminal legal and social space. That is, the refugee “belongs” in the United States through refugee law, but at the same time should not “belong” according to exclusionary immigration law. Juxtaposing immigration, refugee law, and notions of citizenship and “belonging,” the Article advances a more holistic approach to these bodies of law and society in the supposedly “post-racial” United States, suggesting that the immigration-refugee dynamic illuminated through the case of Pershing’s Chinese refugees continues to engage race to define who belongs in the nation and how in the twenty-first century.

Keywords: immigration, asylum, refugee, citizenship, race, legal history

Suggested Citation

Lim, Julian, Immigration, Asylum, and Citizenship: A More Holistic Approach (February 14, 2013). California Law Review, Forthcoming, Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-08-03, Available at SSRN: or

Julian Lim (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
Saint Louis, MO 63130
United States

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