Invitation to a lecture
Reconstituting Americans in the Philippines "Within the Revenue Clause" and Valmonte v. INS (1998)
by Dr. Allan Isaac
on March 5, 2004 Friday
Dean's Conference Room
H. Dela Costa Bldg G/F
Ateneo de Manila University
Throughout the first decades of the twentieth century, debates around the "Philippine Question" and the status of the U.S. colonies in relation to the (American) Constitution were crucial to the definition of American citizenship and American-ness. The possibility of a "citizen" outside the U.S. terrestrial compass prompted the Supreme Court to define the political relationship between the United States proper and U.S. property. The nature of these territories and their relationship to the U.S. polity came under debate in the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress from 1898 through the 1930s, in a series of court cases collectively known as the Insular Cases. The court arguments and congressional debates held that the "Constitution did not follow the flag" in the territories. That is, constitutional rights and citizenship did not automatically extend to the territories upon their acquisition. Much like the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, the problem before Congress and the Supreme Court was how to legalize and constitute "separate" (but not equal) national entities in relation to the American polity. Economic, juridical and political interests worked together to create the "doctrine of territorial incorporation" as a legal reality. Debates about tariff and territory shaped this doctrine to shore up American boundaries.
Subsequently, the controversy over commerce and citizenship constituted two types of Americans subjects for the new century: the imperial citizen and its uncanny "unincorporated" double, the colonial national.
This paper will explore the issues and implications of the Valmonte v INS case for Filipinos and American "nationals" past and present. Decided by the Second Circuit in 1998, Valmonte v INS involves a Filipino plaintiff, born during the Philippine Commonwealth era, who claimed automatic U.S. citizenship based on the equal protection and citizenship clauses of the 14th amendment extending to the territory. The Constitutional tensions inherent in the creation of the "unincorporated territory" at the turn of the century are revisited domestically in this immigration case. In this and other immigration cases involving native Filipinos born during the territorial period, the Courts have always deferred to Congressional plenary powers on questions of immigration and citizenship. The Philippines and other US territories may be found right in the beginning of the Constitution in Article I, Section 4, after a semicolon "within the revenue clause": "but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." In truth, the Philippines exists in the erasure and disappearance of this clause in decisions involving Filipinos born during the US Territorial period claiming their right to citizenship. Court decisions have relied on this clause and its displacement to effectively suspend and cast the Filipino's citizenship status at bay-- outside the American family. Recent legal scholarship on citizenship and U.S. resident subject's rights has begun to explore limits the Constitution places on these powers and definitions of alien, citizenship and national. The courts have tended to appeal to Downes v Bidwell, one of the Insular Cases, involving a revenue clause to interpret the 14th Amendment citizenship clause. The judicial branch has not performed its duty to review Congressional action on citizenship for nationals, and neither has it addressed the meaning of the citizenship clause of the Amendment "in these United States" to include "the United States of America, Philippine Islands" during the colonial period.
Allan Isaac is Assistant Professor of English at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He teaches courses in American Studies, Law, Race and Literature, Asian American and Postcolonial Studies. He is currently a Fulbright U.S. Scholar in Manila and a Visiting Professor at De La Salle University. His forthcoming book is entitled American Tropics: U.S. Imperial Grammar and the American Postcolonial Imagination (University of Minnesota Press).