The first page of the Chinese
The Chinese Exclusion Act
was a United States federal law
into law by President Arthur
8, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty
of 1868. Those revisions
allowed the U.S. to suspend
Congress subsequently acted quickly to implement the suspension of
Chinese immigration, a ban that was intended to last 10
Chinese immigrants came to America in large numbers during the 1848
California Gold Rush
and in the
1860s when the Central Pacific
recruited large labor gangs to build its portion of
. Large-scale immigration continued into the late
1800s, with 123,201 Chinese recorded as arriving between 1871 and
1880, and 61,711 arriving between 1881 and 1890.
when surface gold was plentiful, the Chinese were well tolerated and well-received.
gold became harder to find and competition increased, animosity to
the Chinese and other foreigners increased. After being forcibly
driven from the mines, most Chinese settled in enclaves in cities,
mainly San Francisco, and took up low end wage labor such as
restaurant work and laundry. With the post Civil War economy in
decline by the 1870s, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized by
labor leader Dennis Kearney
as well as by
California Governor John Bigler
, both of
whom blamed Chinese "coolies
" for depressed
wage levels. Another significant anti-Chinese group organized in
California during this same era was the Supreme Order of Caucasians
some 64 chapters statewide
The first page of a twenty one page
interrogation transcript of Yee Bing Quai.
He is interrogated by Inspector Charles E Golding with clerk
Marion T Lovett recording and David Lee interpreting, June 15,
1938, in Boston, MA.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a significant restriction on free
immigration in U.S. history. The Act excluded Chinese "skilled and
unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining" from entering
the country for ten years under penalty of imprisonment and
deportation. The few Chinese non-laborers who wished to immigrate
had to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they
were qualified to immigrate, which tended to be difficult to prove.
Volpp argues that the "Chinese Exclusion Act" is a misnomer, in
that it is assumed to be the starting point of Chinese exclusionary
laws in the US. She suggests attending to the intersections of
race, gender, and US citizenship in order to both understand the
restraints of such a historical tendency and make visible Chinese
female immigration experiences, including the Page Act of 1875
The Act also affected Asians who had already settled in the United
States. Any Chinese who left the United States had to obtain
certifications for reentry, and the Act made Chinese immigrants
permanent aliens by excluding them from U.S. citizenship. After the
Act's passage, Chinese men in the U.S. had little chance of ever
reuniting with their wives, or of starting families in their new
Amendments made in 1884 tightened the provisions that allowed
previous immigrants to leave and return, and clarified that the law
applied to ethnic Chinese regardless of their country of origin.
The Scott Act
expanded upon the
Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting reentry after leaving the U.S.
The Act was renewed for ten years by the 1892 Geary Act
, and again with no terminal date in
1902. When the act was extended in 1902, itrequired "each Chinese
resident to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Without
a certificate, he or she faced deportation."
Between 1882 and 1905, about 10,000 Chinese appealed against
negative immigration decisions to federal court, usually via a
petition for habeas corpus
. In most of
these cases, the courts ruled in favor of the petitioner. Except in
cases of bias or negligence, these petitions were barred by an act
that passed Congress in 1894 and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme
Court in U.S. vs Lem Moon Sing
(1895). In U.S. vs Ju
(1905), the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that the port
inspectors and the secretary of commerce had final authority on who
could be admitted. Ju Toy's petition was thus barred despite the
fact that the district court found that he was an American citizen.
The Supreme Court determined that refusing entry at a port does not
require due process and is legally equivalent to refusing entry at
a land crossing. This ruling triggered a brief boycott of U.S.
goods in China.
One of the
critics of the Chinese Exclusion Act was the
anti-slavery/anti-imperialist Republican Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts who described the Act as "nothing less than the
legalization of racial discrimination."
The laws were driven largely by racial concerns; immigration of
persons of other races was unlimited during this period.
On the other hand, many people strongly supported the Chinese
Exclusion Act, including the Knights of
, a labor union
for improved conditions for workers, who supported it because it
believed that industrialists were using Chinese workers as a wedge
to keep wages low and conditions poor.Among labor and leftist
organizations, the Industrial Workers of the
were the sole exception to this pattern. The IWW openly
opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act from its inception in 1905.
Effects and aftermath
Certificate of identity issued to Yee
Wee Thing certifying that he is the son of a US citizen, issued
This was necessary for his immigration from China to the
For all practical purposes, the Exclusion Act, along with the
restrictions that followed it, froze the Chinese community in place
in 1882, and prevented it from growing and assimilating into U.S.
society as European immigrant groups did. Limited immigration from
China continued until the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in
1910 to 1940, the Angel
Island Immigration Station on what is now Angel Island
State Park in San Francisco Bay served as the processing center for most of the
56,113 Chinese immigrants who are recorded as immigrating or
returning from China; upwards of 30 percent more who showed up were
returned to China.
Furthermore, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
which destroyed City Hall and the Hall of Records, many immigrants
(known as "paper sons") claimed that they had familial ties to
resident Chinese-American citizens. Whether these were true or not
cannot be proved.
The Chinese Exclusion Act gave rise to the first great wave of
commercial human smuggling, an activity that later spread to
include other national and ethnic groups.
Later, the Immigration Act of
would restrict immigration even further, excluding all
classes of Chinese immigrants and extending restrictions to other
Asian immigrant groups. Until these restrictions were relaxed in
the middle of the twentieth century, Chinese immigrants were forced
to live a life apart, and to build a society in which they could
survive on their own.
Repeal and current status
The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act
, which permitted Chinese nationals
already residing in the country to become naturalized citizens. It
also allowed a national quota of 105 Chinese immigrants per year,
although large scale Chinese immigration did not occur until the
passage of the Immigration Act
. Despite the fact that the exclusion act was repealed
in 1943, the law in California that Chinese people were not allowed
to marry whites was not repealed until 1948.
Even today, although all its constituent sections have long been
repealed, Chapter 7 of Title 8
of the United States Code
is headed, "Exclusion
of Chinese." It is the only chapter of the 15 chapters in Title 8
(Aliens and Nationality) that is completely focused on a specific
nationality or ethnic group.
- See, e.g., http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5046/%7C
- Exclusion. Memory.loc.gov. Accessed 2009-10-30.
Note: This article incorporates text from this website, which was
written by the United States federal government and is therefore in
the public domain.
- usnews.com: The People's Vote: Chinese Exclusion
- Leti Volpp "Divesting Citizenship: On Asian American History
and the Loss of Citizenship Through Marriage" The Regents of the
University of California. UCLA Law Review (2005).
- Daniel, Roger, " Book Review"
- Roger Daniels, Coming to America, p271.
- Chin, Gabriel J., (1998) UCLA Law Review vol. 46, at 1 "Segregation's Last
Stronghold: Race Discrimination and the Constitutional Law of
- Kennedy, David M. Cohen, Lizabeth, Bailey, Thomas A. The
American Pageant. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002
- The Rhetoric of Inclusion: The I.W.W. and Asian
Workers, by Jennifer Jung Hee Choi
- Chin, Gabriel and Hrishi Karthikeyan, (2002) Asian Law
Journal vol. 9 "Preserving Racial Identity: Population Patterns and
the Application of Anti-Miscegenation Statutes to Asian Americans,
- US CODE-TITLE 8-ALIENS AND NATIONALITY
- Bodenner, Chris. "Chinese Exclusion Act." Issues &
Controversies in American History @ FACTS.com. 20 Oct. 2006. Facts
On File News Services. 3 Nov. 2007 /www.2facts.com>.
Similar racially restrictive immigration policies in other