Bhagat Singh Thind, a Sikh immigrant from Punjab, was granted U.S. citizenship on three separate occasions, having had it revoked twice before finally receiving it for a third and final time. Thind migrated to the U.S. in 1913, where he worked in an Oregon lumber mill to pay for his education at the University of California, Berkeley. He was involved in the founding of the Ghadar party, an important political movement that started in the U.S. calling for South Asian independence from British colonial rule, and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917, becoming a Sergeant and serving in WWI before he was honorably discharged in 1918.
In July 1918, Thind was granted citizenship in Washington State, but it was rescinded after four days. He successfully applied for citizenship again in November 1920, this time in Oregon, a decision upheld by the District Court in Oregon. The Bureau of Naturalization appealed the case to the Supreme Court. At the time, citizenship could only be granted under the Naturalization Act of 1906 to “free white persons” and to “persons of African nativity or persons of African descent.” Thind’s attorneys argued that Thind should be considered white, arguing that being white was synonymous with being “Caucasian,” in accordance with anthropological definitions of the time.
In a unanimous opinion for the Supreme Court, Justice Sutherland wrote that “The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu [sic, Thind was Sikh but all South Asians at the time were referred to as Hindus] parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry. It is very far from our thought to suggest the slightest question of racial superiority or inferiority. What we suggest is merely racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of assimilation.”
Because of the decision, more than fifty people of South Asian descent lost their citizenship. Thind finally received his citizenship in 1935 under a Congressional Act that allowed for naturalization of all World War I veterans regardless of race. Following the repeal of Chinese exclusion laws in 1943, eligibility for naturalization was finally extended to South Asians in 1946, with an immigration quota of 100 persons per year.
there is no question
that white persons intended
the application of the words "white persons"
in the eligibility for citizenship
to preserve their racial purity
If the applicant is a white person within the meaning of this section, he is entitled to naturalization; otherwise not. In Ozawa v. United States, 260 U. S. 178, we had occasion to consider the application of these words to the case of a cultivated Japanese, and were constrained to hold that he was not within their meaning. As there pointed out, the provision is not that any particular class of persons shall be excluded, but it is, in effect, that only white persons shall be included within the privilege of the statute. "The intention was to confer the privilege of citizenship upon that class of persons whom the fathers knew as white, and to deny it to all who could not be so classified. It is not enough to say that the framers did not have in mind the brown or yellow races of Asia.