California Alien Land Law of 1913

California Alien Land Law of 1913
Juichi Soyeda and Tadao Kamiya of Japan arrive in 1913 to lobby against the law
Enacted by Hiram Johnson
Date passed 1913
Date enacted 1913
Legislative history
Bill Land law
Bill published on 1913

The California Alien Land Law of 1913 (also known as the Webb-Haney Act) prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship" from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it, but permitted leases lasting up to three years.[1] It affected the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrant farmers in California. Implicitly, the law was primarily directed at the Japanese. It passed thirty-five to two in the Senate and seventy-two to three in the Assembly and was co-written by attorney Francis J. Heney and California state attorney general Ulysses S. Webb at the behest of Governor Hiram Johnson. Japan's Consul General Kametaro Iijima and lawyer Juichi Soyeda lobbied against the law.[2][3][4] In a letter to the United States Secretary of State, the Japanese government via the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs called the law “essentially unfair and inconsistent… with the sentiments of amity and good neighborhood which have presided over the relations between the two countries,” and noted that Japan felt it was “in disregard of the spirit of the existing treaty between Japan and the United States.” The law was meant to discourage immigration from Asia, and to create an inhospitable climate for immigrants already living in California.[5][6][7]

California Alien Land Law of 1920

The California Alien Land Law of 1920 continued the 1913 law while filling many of its loopholes. Among the loopholes filled were that the leasing of land for a period of three years or less was no longer allowed; owning of stock in companies that acquired agricultural land was forbidden; and guardians or agents of ineligible aliens were required to submit an annual report on their activities. The 1920 Alien Land Law was passed in reaction to the intensification of anti-Japanese sentiment, and to the fact that the 1913 Alien Land Law was doing little to stem Japanese immigration to California. The law was approved by the voters after being proposed by the California State Legislature. It passed with a vote of 668,438 to 222,086. The 1920 law was amended in 1923 to further fill wording-related loopholes.[5][7]

In 1923, the laws were upheld in the United States Supreme Court and were determined not to be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[5]

The 1946 Supreme Court of California case People v. Oyama reaffirmed the 1923 decision, determining that Japanese immigrant Kajiro Oyama had attempted to evade the Alien Land Laws by purchasing farmland that he placed in the name of his son, who was a U.S. citizen. In fact, Oyama’s petition to be named as his son’s guardian in order to have authority over the land had been approved by a local court. This method was a major way in which the Japanese were able to acquire agricultural land during this period, since most other options were closed to them. The case was then reviewed by the United States Supreme Court in Oyama v. California after petitioning by the Oyamas and their supporters. The majority opinion held that Fred Oyama’s rights as a U.S. citizen to take and hold property had been violated by the state of California. The decision was arguably instrumental in helping to bring about a shift in attitudes toward the Japanese and their property rights.[5][8]

The Alien Land Laws were invalidated in 1952 by the Supreme Court of California as a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution in Sei Fujii v. California.[9] Fujii was a longtime Los Angeles resident, but was not a U.S. citizen. He alleged that the law violated the California and United States Constitutions, and that it also went against the spirit of the United Nations Charter to which the United States was bound by treaty. The California District Court of Appeal had decided in 1950 that the Alien Land Law was in violation of Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter. The Supreme Court of California then ordered the case transferred for hearing and settlement, as it was determined to be a sufficiently important question of law.[10][11]

History and context

Leading up to the passage of the 1913 Alien Land Law, there had been growing anti-Asian prejudice in California and in the United States in general, first against the Chinese during the 19th century, culminating with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and then against the Japanese during the 20th century. Anti-Japanese sentiment was often expressed in terms of the racist Yellow Peril argument.[6][12]

In 1900, there was an influx of over 12,000 Japanese immigrants to the U.S. mainland, many just released from indentured labor with Hawaii’s 1898 annexation. California was a main settlement location for Japanese immigrants to the United States, and many began to relocate to rural areas after initially settling in cities. Farming became the major economic foundation for the Japanese population in California, and they saw it as a way to prove their productive abilities and establish a sense of permanency in their new nation. Gradually, many moved from farm labor into production through truck farming and usually filled the niche market for perishable crops.[6][12]

The sudden increases in Japanese immigration during this and subsequent years spurred many anti-Japanese political and organizational movements in California, and the introduction of anti-Asian legislation to the California legislature, all of which had an influence on public sentiment. Many workers returning from the World War I effort felt that the Japanese were infringing on their job opportunities. In addition, some feared that the Japanese were attempting to overtake white control of California’s farmland. The Los Angeles Times newspaper and groups such as the Anti-Asiatic Association were vocal instigators of the anti-Japanese movement. In 1908, the United States and Japan agreed to limitations on Japanese migration to the United States, with Japan agreeing that it would stop the issuing of passports to persons intending to migrate as laborers who had no established future residence in the United States or no family members already in the United States.[13][5][6]

The Japanese possessed the right to lease and own land in the United States for residential and commercial use based on the 1911 American treaty with Japan. In 1910, most Japanese were working in the agricultural and fishing industries. Rights to agricultural land, unprotected by treaty, thus became the focus for the Alien Land Laws as state-level deterrents to immigration were sought in a dearth of national-level involvement.[5][13]

The Japanese presence in California as agricultural laborers and tenant farmers experienced rapid growth during the first two decades of the 20th century. They filled a labor void in farming previously occupied by the Chinese, whose numbers had sharply declined with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Especially through tenant farming, Japanese families hoped to save enough money to eventually purchase their own land. Though it was meant to decrease immigration, the 1913 law likely had relatively little actual impact on Japanese farmers, and in fact, after the passage of the 1913 law, their numbers rose. By 1915, three-quarter of the vegetables consumed by Los Angeles residents were grown by Japanese.[4][5][6]

There is not complete agreement about the effects of the 1920 law. It is thought by some to have had a significant negative impact on Japanese involvement in agriculture. For example, the amount of agricultural land controlled by Japanese decreased by approximately 40 percent between 1920 and 1930, and total acres farmed by Japanese persons declined by 47 percent. During the 1920s, there was a general decline in the agricultural economy in California and elsewhere in the United States, which would have partially contributed to the sudden downturn in Japanese farming. Many Japanese were also able to evade the law, often by claiming to be farm “managers.” There were at least sixteen prosecutions of Japanese for violations of the Alien Land Law from 1920 to 1940, but there were likely many more. Despite the fact that the Alien Land Laws made farming more difficult for them, the Japanese still managed to maintain a fairly high level of economic success in the agricultural industry. In 1915, Japanese Foreign Minister Komei Kato likely spoke for many Japanese when he expressed the sentiment that Japanese immigrants were dismayed by being singled out in such a fashion by the Alien Land Law legislation.[4][5][6]


The laws are widely held to have been discriminatory measures specifically targeting the Japanese, spurred by fears about the increasing number of Japanese immigrants settling in California. The choice to apply the laws only to those aliens ineligible for citizenship rather than to all aliens meant that European aliens would not be affected. Because of this, the bill was decidedly directed at Asians and specifically at the Japanese, who had become a strong presence in the agricultural labor market as well as in the control of farms. The Alien Land Laws were part of a larger trend of attempted discrimination against the Japanese through policy in California during the early 20th century.[13]

Eight other American states passed restrictive land-ownership laws during the years 1913–25. These states were Arizona, Washington, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon. Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming followed with the passage of Alien Land Laws during the World War II years.[4]

Florida is the only state that has not repealed its Alien Land Law. The 1926 amendment is buried in a proviso to the 'Basic Rights' paragraph of the Florida Constitution (Article 1, Section 2):

. . . the ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens ineligible to citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law.

See also


  1. "Webb-Haney Alien Land Law, California 1913". In Time and Place. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
  2. "Tells Japan's Side Of California Case. State's Attitude Inconsistent with Our Previous Acts of Friendship, New Consul Says" (PDF). The New York Times. June 30, 1913. Retrieved 2009-07-30. Asserting at the outset that he meant to be very frank in his discussion of the subject, Kametaro Iijima, the new Japanese Consul General to this city, talked to a reporter yesterday about the California situation at his home, at Central Park West and Eighty-sixth Street. Mr. Iijima arrived in this city last Saturday from Japan.
  3. "Dr. Soyeda Sure That in the End Californian Situation Will Be Settled Amicably" (PDF). The New York Times. June 26, 1913. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 'The Japanese are much surprised by the attitude of the Californian Legislature, and some of them are annoyed, but the thinking persons in Japan trust that the trouble will be solved in the light of justice and humanity,' Dr. J. Soyeda said yesterday at the Hotel Astor. ... Dr. Soyeda and Tadao Kamiya who is associated with him in his mission, were entertained at a luncheon yesterday by the Publishers Association of New York ...
  4. 1 2 3 4 Suzuki, Masao. 2004. "Important Or Impotent? Taking another Look at the 1920 California Alien Land Law." Journal of Economic History 64 (1): 125.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Ferguson, Edwin E. 1947. "The California Alien Land Law and the Fourteenth Amendment." California Law Review 35 (1): 61.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kurashige, Scott. 2008. The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  7. 1 2 Bunje, Emil T. H. 1957. The Story of Japanese Farming in California. Saratoga, California: Robert D. Reed.
  8. Villazor, Rose Cuison. 2010. "Rediscovering Oyama v. California: At the Intersection of Property, Race, and Citizenship." Washington University Law Review 87: 979.
  9. Sei Fujii v. California, 242 P.2d 617 (Cal. 1952)
  10. Fairman, Charles. 1952. "Finis to Fuji." The American Journal of International Law 56 (4): 682.
  11. "The Influence of Sei Fujii." 1950.Congressional Digest 29 (12): 301.
  12. 1 2 Daniels, Roger, The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962).
  13. 1 2 3 Gaines, Brian J. and Wendy K. Tam Cho. 2004. "On California's 1920 Alien Land Law: The Psychology and Economics of Racial Discrimination." State Politics and Policy Quarterly 4 (3): 271.
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