Professor Amanda Frost Pens “You Are Not American: Citizenship Stripping from Dred Scott to the Dreamers”

New Book Describes the U.S. Government’s Use of Stripping Citizenships through Stories of Those that Lost Their Citizenship

Jan. 12, 2021

You Are Not American Book Cover

For the last 200 years, the U.S. government has revoked citizenship to cast out the unwanted, suppress political and social dissent, and deny civil rights to all those considered “un-American” based on factors such as race, ethnicity, marriage partner, or beliefs.

In “You Are Not American: Citizenship Stripping from Dred Scott to the Dreamers” Amanda Frost, Ann Loeb Bronfman Distinguished Professor of Law and Government, draws on narratives of those who have struggled to be treated as full members of “We the People,” exposing a hidden history of discrimination and xenophobia that continues to this day.

Frost said the book – set to be published Jan. 26 by Beacon Press – “is the history of citizenship stripping, a little known phenomenon that happens far more frequently that I even realized when I started to write it.” She wrote the book for a mainstream audience interested in learning more about the government’s manipulation of citizenship to define the nation’s identity.

From the Supreme Court’s rejection of Black citizenship in the 1857 ruling of Dred Scott v Sanford, to the persecution of racial groups, labor leaders, and political activists denied their citizenship, Frost tells the story through the voices of those targeted by their government.

“Much of the book is stories from the perspective of people that have lost their citizenship,” said Frost, who writes and teaches in the fields of immigration and citizenship law, constitutional law, federal courts and jurisdiction, and judicial ethics. “I was shocked to learn that U.S. born women who married non-citizens automatically lost their citizenship for over two decades in the twentieth century. I was blown away, and that started my research for the book.”

Frost began work on the book during her 2019 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship, where she was one of 81 Fellows chosen from over 1,100 applicants. The Program awards fellowships to individual scholars working in the humanities and related social sciences. Frost said while the archival research was her greatest challenge in writing the book, she wanted “to use direct primary sources,” along with “records of cases, briefs and affidavits. This research widened to my horizons as a scholar, and adds to the story.”

Professor Amanda Frost
Professor Amanda Frost

“You Are Not American” concludes by exploring the debate over current citizenship issues, such as birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants, as well as the Trump administration’s denaturalization campaign – including investigation into the citizenship of 700,000 naturalized citizens. Even elected public leaders such as Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, the book notes, are not immune from false claims that they are not citizens eligible to hold office.

“Birthright citizenship, or the idea if you’re born in the United State you’re automatically a U.S. citizen, is one of the best known constitutional provisions.  Yet as I discovered during my research, the government fought it tooth and nail,” said Frost. “So when Trump says during his presidency ‘I can end birthright citizenship, undocumented immigrants aren’t birthright citizens,’ and supports the idea that  Kamala Harris, the daughter of two immigrants, is not a citizen eligible to serve as vice president, it’s shocking – but it’s also consistent with a history we have never fully acknowledged.”

Looking ahead to the Biden presidency, Frost expects his administration will end Trump’s unprecedented de-naturalization campaign and reverse a number of his immigration policies.  .

One conclusion Frost said can be clearly drawn from “You Are Not American” is that the current racial division in our country relates to these unresolved citizenship problems that first emerged post-Civil War.

“When you see the Confederate flag being marched through the U.S. Capitol [on Jan. 6, 2021] in front of a picture of noted abolitionist Charles Sumner as well as John Calhoun, a noted supported of slavery – it’s a stark visual reminder that we’ve never resolved this aspect of our history,” she said.

Join Professor Amanda Frost Thursday, Jan. 28 for the Politics and Prose virtual book launch of “You Are Not American: Citizenship Stripping from Dred Scott to the Dreamers”. Professor Frost will be in conversation with host of Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast, David Plotz. To learn more and register, click here.