Rediscovering Oyama v. California: at the intersection of property, race, and citizenship.

Author:Villazor, Rose Cuison

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION I. OYAMA V. CALIFORNIA AND THE CALIFORNIA ALIEN LAND LAW A. Historical Context B. Facts of the Case C. Supreme Court Opinions II. EXPLORING OYAMA7 S CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE INTERSECTION OF PROPERTY, RACE, AND CITIZENSHIP A. Property Rights as Core Citizenship Rights 1. Restoring the Property Rights of the (Alien) Citizen 2. Ignoring the Noncitizen's Property Rights B. Expanding the Narratives of Racialized Property Laws 1. Struggle for Equality in Property 2. Immigration and Naturalization Law 's Interjection III. EXAMINING THE BOUNDARIES OF STATE POLICE POWERS IN REGULATING NONCITIZENS' PROPERTY RIGHTS A. State Regulation of Noncitizens' Property Rights B. Comparison to the California Alien Land Law C. Towards an Integrationist Theory of Property IV. IMPLICATIONS ON CONTEMPORARY STATE AND LOCAL "ANTI-ILLEGAL" IMMIGRANT LAWS A. "Illegal" Immigrant Relief Acts--The New Alien Land Laws 1. "Neutral" Language 2. Legislative History Demonstrates Racial Bias B. Oyama's Legacy 1. Preemption Doctrine 2. Promoting Equal Access to Property CONCLUSION Introduction

I was aware that my rights were being violated but if that's what the President wanted us to do--then we must evacuated [sic]. It was my intention to prove my loyalty and looked forward to joining the service. That is--until the property was escheated. My desire to join the service was to defend my country and, more specifically, to defend my home. When they took our home, I changed my attitude completely. I could never be hostile to the U.S.A.--but I was bitterly disappointed and felt like a man without a country.

--Fred Yoshihiro Oyama. (1)

Today, two seemingly disparate areas of law--property and immigration--are colliding. In the past several years, a number of municipalities have enacted local ordinances that prohibit the ability of undocumented immigrants (2) to enter into a residential lease in an apartment or residential building located within their borders. (3) Among these is the City of Farmers Branch's Ordinance 2952 ("Ordinance 2952"), which required all persons to declare that they are U.S. citizens or nationals or provide an identification number that establishes "lawful presence" in the United States in order to obtain a residential occupancy license before signing an apartment or other residential lease. (4) Stating that "persons who are not lawfully present in the United States" are not eligible for certain state and local benefits including residential licenses, (5) Ordinance 2952 created a licensing scheme that required the city to verify a person's lawful immigration status with the federal government before that person could live within the city. (6)

The attempts of Ordinance 2952 and similar local restrictive housing laws that use unauthorized immigration status to deny the ability of undocumented noncitizens to rent property have expectedly invited contentious litigation. (7) Central in these lawsuits is the question of whether the local laws are unlawfully regulating immigration law, which has long been held to fall under the exclusive domain of the federal government, (8) or whether the laws are regulating property and housing, which are areas that traditionally fall within the domain of state and local governments. (9) The lawsuits have also focused on the civil rights implications of the laws. Invoking the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, (10) plaintiffs have argued that the laws discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. (11) A number of scholars agree, commenting that many of these laws are problematic because they are directed primarily against Latina/os. (12) Indeed, evidencing fears of the "Browning" of their towns, (13) political leaders and supporters favoring these local housing restrictions have indicated their intent to exclude Latina/os from their neighborhoods regardless of their immigration status. (14) That is, although designed to limit undocumented noncitizens' right to property, the laws have the consequence of affecting the property rights of U.S. citizens as well.

Although fairly novel in recent memory, the intersection of property, race, immigration, and citizenship that these local ordinances reflect is far from new. In particular, the current discussion of these local housing ordinances has overlooked the ways in which these laws parallel alien land laws that states passed in the early twentieth century. These alien land laws, which prohibited noncitizens who were statutorily ineligible to apply for U.S. citizenship to own or lease property, (15) primarily targeted Japanese. In 1923, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of these laws on the grounds that states traditionally have authority to regulate the property rights of noncitizens. (16)

Ultimately, these state property laws succumbed to equality principles in Oyama v. California (17) when the Supreme Court struck down the application of California's Alien Land Law to U.S. citizens. As the Court noted, California's Alien Land Law did more than deny noncitizens who were not eligible to become citizens from owning land. The law also restricted the rights of U.S. citizens to own property if their noncitizen parents purchased the land on their behalf. (18) Accordingly, the Supreme Court invalidated the law as applied to Fred Oyama, a Japanese American, concluding that by denying him his right to own property because of his father's national origin, the state violated his right to equal protection and "privileges as an American citizen." (19)

This Article explores the interplay between property, race, and citizenship in Oyama and analyzes the case's historical, doctrinal, and theoretical contributions to the canons of property and constitutional laws. (20) Overall, the Article has two broad aims. Its primary goal is to fill a gap in the historical narrative of property rights by highlighting how this largely unnoticed case deepens, as this Article argues, our understanding of property and equal protection. Secondarily, the Article seeks to link this overlooked history to contemporary housing restrictions against undocumented immigrants.

Oyama was a landmark case in the history of equal protection and property rights in the United States. (21) Decided four years after Korematsu v. United States, (22) which upheld the constitutionality of E.O. 9066, (23) Oyama helped to turn the tide against ongoing public discrimination directed at the recently interned Japanese families. Specifically, although California enacted the Alien Land Law in the early 1900s, it did not significantly enforce it until well into the internment of Japanese and after their release from concentration camps. (24) This more vigorous enforcement of the law demonstrated the state's ongoing quest to expel Japanese from California through the use of a state property law. Thus, Oyama's protection of a Japanese American's right to own property returned some measure of security against California's relentless efforts to exclude the Japanese community. Regrettably, Oyama did not address the question of whether the Alien Land Law violated the equal rights of noncitizen Japanese. In so doing, it left open the authority of state and local governments to continue to use their police powers to regulate noncitizens' access to property. (25) Nevertheless, Oyama stalled the state's continued discrimination against Japanese landholding. (26) Importantly, it provided support for the striking down of California's Alien Land Law a few years later. (27)

More broadly, by recognizing the racialized effect of the Alien Land Law's differential treatment against U.S. citizen children of Japanese nationals, Oyama paved an important path towards fulfilling the promise of equality in property ownership that the Supreme Court later enshrined in Shelley v. Kraemer. (28) Indeed, Shelley, which was decided four months after Oyama by the same set of Supreme Court justices and also authored by Chief Justice Vinson, relied on Oyama for the proposition that the denial of equal enjoyment of property rights by a state on the basis of a person's race and ancestry constituted an equal protection violation. (29)

Unlike Korematsu and Shelley, Oyama's place within equal protection jurisprudence has been overlooked in pedagogical and scholarly literature. (30) For example, leading constitutional law and property law casebooks include both Korematsu and Shelley but do not even refer to Oyama. (31) This Article intends to correct this oversight. As this Article contends, Oyama has much to offer our collective knowledge of equal protection, property, immigration, and citizenship jurisprudence.

First, Oyama constitutes an important piece of the larger story of nonwhites' struggle for equal access to property in the early to mid-1900s. The conventional understanding of discrimination in property law is that racial barriers to property rights resulted in unequal citizenship. Both Shelley and Buchanan tell this dynamic of using equality principles in order to vindicate the equal citizenship rights of African Americans. (32)

Oyama reveals a different, yet equally compelling, story of the relationship between property, race, and citizenship. Specifically, Oyama reconfigures the dynamic by illustrating how the Alien Land Law deployed citizenship to deny individuals, specifically Japanese, the right to own property. As Oyama acknowledged, racial equality ultimately proved to be the sword that cut through the subordination of persons through the use of racialized citizenship laws. Accordingly, examining Oyama and the dismantling of barriers to property faced by Japanese--resident aliens and U.S. citizens alike--thus expands our overall conception of the intersection between race, property ownership, and equal citizenship.

Second, Oyama facilitates revisiting the disjunction between citizenship and noncitizenship in land ownership and the broader limitations on state authority...

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