Allison Powers Useche (History, Columbia University):
The Standard of Civilization on Trial at the US Mexico Claims Commission, 1923-1937 (PDF)
Elspeth Wilson (Political Science, UPenn):
Islands of Civic Exclusion: Puerto Rico, U.S.Global Imperialism, and the Insular Cases (PDF)
THIS MONTH'S PAPERS EXPLORE legal contests over citizenship and rights in the context of expanding U.S. power in the early 20th century. Both show how national and international law provided opportunities to challenge U.S. sovereignty, while at other times helping solidify American power over newly annexed territories and peoples. Both speak to contemporary struggles over rights and national belonging.
Allison’s paper explains how Mexican nationals living in the United States used the 1923-1937 US-Mexico General Claims Commission to argue that the American justice system violated international law. Tracing their contests over commercial personhood, citizenship and statelessness, the paper uncovers a forgotten moment of struggle over the limits and possibilities of international law to address structural injustices within the American legal system.
Elspeth’s paper discusses the Supreme Court’s rulings on the status of Puerto Rico in the Insular Cases in the early 20th century. The prospect of including Puerto Ricans as “birthright citizens” in the American polity sparked racial and cultural anxieties, she argues, leading a majority of justices to classify Puerto Rico as an “unincorporated territory.” Elspeth suggests that the legal doctrine established by the Court in the early 20th century continues to adversely structure the civic status and political rights of the residents of Puerto Rico today.