06 May 2018 | Various Sources | Hawkins Bay Dispatch – This Day
The act was initially intended to last for 10 years, but was renewed in 1892 with the Geary Act and made permanent in 1902.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States.
Immigration from most countries was controlled or restricted in some way, but only the Chinese were so completely prohibited from immigrating.
After various members of the federal and some provincial governments (especially British Columbia) put pressure on the federal government to discourage Chinese immigration, the Chinese Immigration Act was passed. It went into effect on July 1, 1923. [Wikipedia]
05 May 2017 | Kat Chow | NRP
A Chinese man stands on a pedestal surrounded by a harbor as a cartoon imitation of the Statue of Liberty. His clothes are tattered, his hair is in a long, thin tail, his eyes squint. The words “diseases,” “filth,” “immorality,” and “ruin to white labor” float around his head.
This man is the center of an iconic image from 1881 called “A Statue for Our Harbor,” made by the cartoonist George Frederick Keller. The image reflects the widespread anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant sentiment of the time, and was used to drum up support for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which turns 135 on Saturday. The law limited Chinese immigration and barred them from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.
Experts point to the parallels between the political climate of the exclusion era and today: a close and contentious presidential election that stirred anti-immigrant sentiment; the growing economic anxiety of white Americans; and policies that would drastically shape the country’s immigration laws.
On Saturday, a group of Asian American activists are organizing a rally in San Francisco to acknowledge the anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act and to “learn from our past and prevent it from repeating,” according to Cynthia Choi, who works with Chinese For Affirmative Action, one of the groups organizing the event.
“This is important for the Chinese American and broader Asian American community, to stand up against the new targets to this new form of exclusion, for us to say it was wrong 135 years ago and it’s wrong today,” Choi said. “We’re in a unique period where… accurate information is not as easily attained, so there are a number of people who are on the fence, who are confused about the policies, who — more dangerously — feel as though this doesn’t affect them.”
Then And Now: Race And Class
“Beginning in 1882, the United States stopped being a nation of immigrants that welcomed foreigners without restrictions, borders or gates. Instead, it became a … gatekeeping nation,” Erika Lee, a professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote in her book At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During The Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. “In the process, the very definition of what it meant to be an ‘American’ became even more exclusionary.”
The Chinese exclusion law was the very first time in American history that immigrants were barred because of their race and class. In 1882, when Congress passed the law, there were 39,600 men and women from China who arrived in the U.S. Just three years later, there were only 22, according to early records that Lee came across in her research.
The 1876 presidential race between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden was a major turning point in the country’s stance on immigration. Leading up to the election, the race was so close and electoral votes were so coveted, it brought California’s ongoing fight to push out Chinese immigrants to the national stage, Lee said. Many Californians worried that Chinese laborers would take their jobs, and that they were sexually lecherous threats to society.
Lee said that anti-immigrant measures in the 1880s — and today — were driven by both working class people and elites, as well as those who had a “vested economic interest in border walls and detention centers.”
The Chinese Exclusion Act set the groundwork for immigrant detention centers and the country’s first large-scale deportation of a single immigrant group. Specifically, the exclusion era brought an expansion of the federal government in terms of hiring more immigrant inspectors, whose responsibilities included working as interpreters and at the detention facilities.
As for today’s parallel? Lee points to companies that are vying to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and the question of whether there will be more privately-owned immigrant detention centers under President Trump.
Lee says that today’s equivalent is the proposed so-called “Muslim ban,” because it singles out specific groups of people for discrimination. “The fact that we don’t explicitly name Muslims [in the executive order] is more of a reflection of how our racial sensibilities have changed over the past 135 years, in terms of being more polite in our racism.”
And, Lee says, like the proposed ban — which Trump says will be in place until vetting procedures are strengthened — the Chinese Exclusion Act was also originally proposed as a temporary law.
The exclusion act was meant to be law for a decade but lasted 61 years. It was repealed in 1943 with the Magnuson Act, when the U.S. wanted to foster an alliance with China in the war against Japan. In 2012, Congress passed a resolution formally expressing regret to Chinese Americans for the exclusion law and other discriminatory measures.
But while there are many links between the exclusion era and today, there are also important differences. Trump’s immigration orders have created “one of the most divisive eras around immigration” in history, Lee told NPR. And his policies have had wide-reaching consequences for immigrants that have been met with protests across the country.
“I cannot think of another time or a set of laws that has the promise to transform immigration so dramatically at every level,” Lee said. Trump’s policies have included banning refugees, increasing border security and interior enforcement, expanding deportation and expedited removal, reforming the H1-B visa program and attempting to enact a travel ban.
Still, Lee said, what’s different is the nationwide grassroots efforts and legal challenges that have sprung up against Trump’s immigration policies. “There were no protests in support of Chinese immigrants [during the exclusion era in the U.S.],” Lee said.
But it’s unclear if some immigrants today draw a link between the historical exclusions and Trump’s various immigration restrictions, according to Janelle Wong, the director of the Asian American studies program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“On the one hand, more than 60 percent of Asian-American registered voters oppose a ‘Muslim Ban.’ This is pretty consistent across groups,” Wong wrote in an email, citing her work on the National Asian American Survey. “On the other hand, the survey also shows that about 20 percent of Chinese Americans, and Asian-American registered voters as a whole, support such a ban. This, despite the fact that Chinese were the first in U.S. history to be excluded according to these kinds of ascriptive characteristics.”
Choi, the rally organizer, said she feels that while the Chinese Americans who support the ban are a minority, “they’re a vocal one.” Choi said that many of the rally’s speeches will be translated into Cantonese and Mandarin, which she hopes will draw in people who might only speak Chinese.
In 1885, a student named Saum Song Bo wrote a scathing open letter in a New York newspaper. He was struck by the irony that the U.S. was erecting the Statue Of Liberty three years after passing the Chinese Exclusion Act:
“That statue represents Liberty holding a torch which lights the passage of those of all nations who come into this country. But are the Chinese allowed to come? As for the Chinese who are here, are they allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationalities enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from the insults, abuse, assaults, wrongs and injuries from which men of other nationalities are free?”
Liberty, for Bo and many other immigrants in that era, felt out of reach.
08 December 2015 | Yanan Wang | The Washington Post
The “Chinaman” was a familiar figure to many Americans in the mid-1800s. His likeness was unmistakable: slit eyes, a perpetual grimace, traditional loose-fitting garb and a long, snake-like ponytail tightly tied to an otherwise bald head.
He looked like an unsavory character — and most importantly, an alien one.
The first major arrival of Chinese immigrants to the United States occurred during the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s, and with them emerged a strong current of anti-Chinese sentiment. From the very beginnings of their presence in the country, Chinese people were regarded as dangerous foreigners who took jobs and opportunities away from hardworking Americans.
Under those circumstances, it was almost inevitable that a political movement would arise in the name of eliminating a group widely regarded as a social and economic ill. The 1870s saw the formation of the Workingmen’s Party of California, whose motto was simply and succinctly “The Chinese Must Go!”
Within a decade, its campaign succeeded, contributing to President Chester Arthur’s 1882 signing of the Chinese Exclusion Act: the first federal law to exclude a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the country.
The Chinese Exclusion Act is also the closest cousin to what Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed Monday when he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States.
It goes one step further than the 1882 legislation, which excluded Chinese laborers from entering the country under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. It also prohibited existing Chinese immigrants from seeking American citizenship.
Trump’s ban on Muslims would apply not only to prospective immigrants but also to tourists and others visiting the country.
Versions of the Chinese Exclusion Act persisted for decades, becoming increasingly restrictive. The Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924 excluded all classes of ethnic Chinese and further banned all visa types for arrivals from a defined “Asiatic Barred Zone” which included India, Afghanistan, Persia (modern-day Iran), Arabia, Southeast Asia, the Asian-Pacific Islands as well as parts of the Ottoman Empire and Russia. (Japanese immigrants had already been barred through the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of 1907.)
Extending from the Arabian Peninsula to Indonesia, this “zone” encompassed most of the Muslim world at the time.
Since it was repealed in 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act has been remembered as a dark period in American history, when Chinese immigration all but halted for several years. Trump’s ban on Muslims would be an even more extreme iteration of this mandate, as it targets people based on religion instead of ethnicity.
From anti-Chinese to anti-Muslim sentiment
While Trump’s proposal has received almost universal condemnation from members of both political parties, the rhetoric surrounding exclusionary immigration measures through American history has been reprised by those — not limited to Trump — urging restraints on Middle Eastern refugee admissions to the United States today.
The position of politicians supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act was characterized in a biting editorial cartoon the year of its signing. The image shows the archetypal Chinaman sitting outside a steel door labeled the “Golden Gate of Liberty.” At the bottom of the cartoon, a caption reads “THE ONLY ONE BARRED OUT” and quotes an “enlightened American statesman” as saying, “We must draw the line somewhere, you know.”
Many have used the same language to criticize the Obama administration’s assertion that Syrian refugees are thoroughly vetted before they are allowed to settle in the United States. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said in a statement last month regarding the need to help refugees but also bar them from entry: “When we draw a line in the sand or boundary in the air, the world needs to understand that we mean it.”
The Chinese Exclusion Act was itself sold as a patriotic endeavor.
“The language of the act talks about the need to restrict as a matter of sovereignty,” immigration historian Erika Lee said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “It was couched in terms of national security and the greater health of the country — the rhetoric was very similar to what we’re hearing today.”
[The aim of the Workingmen’s Party, a labor organization with a particular focus on Chinese immigrant labor on the Central Pacific Railroad, was straightforward and supported by many Californians at the time.
The party channeled latent suspicions surrounding “Chinese cheap labor” into cartoonish depictions of a homogeneous group of immigrants supposedly bent on wreaking havoc on American life.
Aside from the caricature of the dirty, pilfering “Chinaman,” there were images depicting the Chinese as violent and destructive. One drawing offered an un-ironic representation of what would happen if you allowed a Chinese person into your home: they would start out as cute, harmless kittens and turn into monstrous tigers that murdered your entire family.
According to Lee, all these depictions contributed to a “rhetoric that tied national security with racial anxieties.”
“Chinese people were considered not only un-American but the opposite of Americans,” said Lee, who recently authored “The Making of Asian America: A History.” “They were considered diametrically opposed to what was America.”
Likewise, Trump has supported his idea of a ban on Muslims with claims that Muslim Americans harbor ill will against the country.
He wrote in his statement Monday:
Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension…. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.
And as with the slogan of the Workingmen’s Party, Trump’s proposal is expected to be well-received by his base of supporters. David Brody, a correspondent for Christian Broadcasting Network, tweeted, “Here is the truth whether you like it or not: [Trump] is only candidate to have the bravery to put out that statement on Muslims.”
“Expect the [Trump] statement on USA Muslim ban to give him a boost with evangelicals,” Brody said in a subsequent tweet.
At a rally in South Carolina on Monday night, Trump called the idea of such an entry ban “common sense.”
“We have no choice,” he told a cheering crowd. “We have no choice.”
A ‘mirror’ into racial anxieties
The historical contexts, of course, are decidedly different. The Chinese were made economic scapegoats, blamed for taking jobs away from Americans; Muslims today are grouped together with terrorists. Islam has faced increased scrutiny in the past month alone, in the aftermath of Islamic State attacks on Paris and a mass shooting in San Bernardino perpetrated by apparent Islamic State supporters.
But in both cases, changing attitudes toward either group rely on developments in foreign policy.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed two years after China became a U.S. ally in World War II. The policy change was accompanied by public relations campaigns to transform the image of Chinese people in the American psyche “after decades and decades of negative stereotypes.”
“TIME and Life magazine put up these articles called ‘How to tell your Chinese friends from the Japs,’” Lee said. “It was serious.” And anti-Japanese sentiments were reversed only after Japan became a democracy and an important U.S. partner during the Cold War.
“If history is any guide, our changing foreign relations will be a major factor in how we might lessen the Islamophobia that is circulating and growing today,” Lee said.
For Muslim Americans, the collective “burden” — as Lee put it — of proving that they are loyal Americans has been present since the 9/11 attacks, which set in motion a number of programs targeting Muslims for surveillance by the government.
The most notable among them was the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which singled out immigrant men from designated countries, all of which were predominantly Arab and Muslim except North Korea, to have their movements tracked and their points of departure limited while in the United States.
But renewed calls to limit Muslim immigration emerged following the Paris attacks last month, when state governors vowed to reject incoming Syrian refugees and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) expressed support for a ban specifically on those refugees who are Muslim.
Trump’s call for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States has received widespread criticism in part because it evokes a history widely considered shameful now, not just in its application to the Chinese but to a succession of ethnic and religious groups lumped together for exclusion at one point or the other: Irish Catholics, Jews, South Asians, Turks and Pacific Islanders, among others. Enacting such a proposal would mean going back 72 years in U.S. history, to before the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed under President Franklin Roosevelt in 1943.
In his paper “Race, the Immigration Laws, and Domestic Race Relations: A ‘Magic Mirror’ into the Heart of Darkness,” University of California Davis law school dean Kevin Johnson contended that exclusionary immigration laws are in part reflections of prevailing opinions about racial minorities already settled in the United States.
“For better or worse,” Johnson wrote, “the history of national origin and racial exclusion in U.S. immigration laws serves as a lens into this nation’s soul…. This phenomenon is not limited to racial minorities, but applies with equal force to other groups who have been excluded from our shores under the immigration laws.”
Read This Day from Hawkins Bay Dispatch