This article examines the Japanese American Citizens League’s (JACL) postwar campaign to secure U.S. citizenship eligibility for first-generation Japanese (Issei) as a civil rights effort that brought Japanese Americans into contention with African American and Afro-Caribbean community leaders during the height of the U.S. Cold War in East Asia. At the same time, JACL’s disagreements with Chinese Americans and Japanese American liberals precluded any coherent Japanese or Asian American position on postwar immigration policy. The resulting 1952 McCarran-Walter Act formally ended Asians’ exclusion from U.S. immigration and naturalization, even as a colonial quota in the law severely restricted black immigration from the Caribbean and galvanized black protest. This episode of black-Japanese tension complicates scholarly understandings of the liberalization of U.S. immigration and naturalization laws toward Asian peoples as analogous with or complementary to black civil rights gains in the postwar years. In so doing, it suggests the need to think more critically and historically about the cleavages between immigration and civil rights law, and between immigrant rights and civil rights.

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