Immigration, Imperialism, and the Legacies of Indian Exclusion

54 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2015 Last revised: 14 Mar 2019

See all articles by Sherally Munshi

Sherally Munshi

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2016


Contemporary immigration law cannot be understood without an understanding of the imperial contexts from which they emerged. This Article explores the continuity between the imperial formations that defined the nineteenth century and the practices of immigrant exclusion that emerged in the early twentieth century, by focusing on Indian immigration to — and eventual exclusion from — the United States and other white-settler nations. Until the turn of the twentieth century, there were relatively few restrictions on international migration. European imperialism and settler colonialism were sustained by mass migration, both voluntary and involuntary. With the arrival of Asian immigrants, white-settler nations abandoned their longstanding commitment to “the rights of man to change his home and allegiance” to establish an “absolute and unqualified” right of nations to exclude and deport foreigners. As this Article demonstrates, the legislative and political maneuvers that culminated in the exclusion of Asian immigrants from white-settler nations would precipitate a powerful shift in prevailing conceptions of national identity, territorial sovereignty, and the associated right to exclude foreigners. Moreover, as the history of Indian exclusion illuminates, by the time so many peoples in the colonized world gained their freedom — in the limited form of territorial sovereignty — they had already lost the freedom of movement that had long been enjoyed by Europeans and their descendants in the New World. National boundaries would provide a durable solution to the problem that decolonization might have otherwise unleashed upon the existing world order—the free movement of poor peoples to rich nations.

Keywords: Immigration, Imperialism, India, Asia, Asian American, New World, Settler Colonialism, Empire, Postcolonial, Nation, Nation-State, Borders, Boundaries, Decolonization

Suggested Citation

Munshi, Sherally, Immigration, Imperialism, and the Legacies of Indian Exclusion (2016). Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Sherally Munshi (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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