I examine how and why the social construction of Asian Americans has changed from coolie to model minority over the last century. I examine the role of the U.S. government in creating policies that systematically select particular types of entrants to the United States. Federal immigration policy privileges high-skilled workers, and a disproportionately large number of Asian immigrants are granted the status of lawful permanent resident by the federal government on the basis of employment preferences. U.S. immigration policy thus creates a selection bias, favoring Asian immigrants with high levels of formal education and social standing. I also consider the consequences of this selection bias for the construction of racial tropes and Asian American identity, and argue that the normative content of the dominant tropes of racial identity is critical in establishing the incentives and costs of identifying with racial and ethnic groups. Immigration policy, and the selection biases it may engender, is an important factor in how those tropes are constructed and experienced. Racial identity should, and does, vary as a function of the unique histories of migration, labor market demands, and shared experiences for people classified by race.
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