Annotation: Four years before the dedication of the Statute of Liberty, whose inscription reads: “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the United States enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Act was the first immigration law to ban entry into the United States based on race. From 1882 until 1943, all Chinese, except travelers, merchants, teachers and students, were barred from entering the United States. The Act was not repealed until 1943.
During the years that the Exclusion Act was in effect, Chinese applicants who claimed to be relatives of individuals already in the United States were subjected to intensive interrogations. Among the questions asked were these: “Did your mother have bound feet?” And “who occupied the house on the fifth lot of your row in your native village?” Between 1910 and 1940, the chief point of entry for Chinese immigrants was Angel Island in San Francisco harbor. There, 175,000 Chinese immigrants detained for weeks and, sometimes, years.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was only the first of a number of restrictions on Asian immigrants. Between 1820 to 1979, only 6 percent of all immigrants came from Asia. Today, in contrast, Asians are the second largest immigrant group, trailing only Latin Americans.
Document: Documents on Anti-Chinese Immigration Policy
I. Chinese Exclusion Treaty, 1880 Treaty Regulating Immigration from China
November 17, 1880
Whereas the Government of the United States, because of the constantly increasing immigration of Chinese laborers to the territory of the United States, and the embarrassments consequent upon such immigration, now desires to negotiate a modification of the existing Treaties which shall not be in direct contravention of their spirit:
ART. I. Whenever in the opinion of the Government of the United States, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States, or their residence therein, affects or threatens to affect the interests of that country, or to endanger the good order of the said country or of any locality within the territory thereof, the Government of China agrees that the Government of the United States may regulate, limit, or suspend such coming or residence, buy may not absolutely prohibit it. The limitation or suspension shall be reasonable and shall apply only to Chinese who may go to the United States as laborers, other classes not being included in the limitations. Legislation taken in regard to Chinese laborers will be of such a character only as is necessary to enforce the regulation, limitation or suspension of immigration, and immigrants shall not be subject to personal maltreatment or abuse.
ART. II. Chinese subjects, whether proceeding to the United States as teachers, students, merchants, or from curiosity, together with their body and household servants, and Chinese laborers who are now in the United States, shall be allowed to go and come of their own free will and accord, and shall be accorded all the rights, privileges, immunities and exemptions which are accorded to the citizens and subjects of the most favored nation.
ART. III. If Chinese laborers, or Chinese of any other class, now either permanently or temporarily residing in the territory of the United States, meet with ill treatment at the hands of nay other persons, the Government of the United States will exert all its power to devise measures for their protection and to secure to them the same rights, privileges, immunities and exemptions as may be enjoyed by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation, and to which they are entitled by treaty.
II. Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882 An act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to Chinese.
May 6, 1882
WHEREAS, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof: Therefore,
Be it enacted, That from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the Untied States be, suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration of said ninety days, to remain within the United States.
SEC. 2. That the master of any vessel who shall knowingly bring within the United States on such vessel, and land or permit to be landed, any Chinese laborer, from any foreign port or place, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars for each and every such Chinese laborer so brought, and may be also imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year.
SEC. 3. That the two foregoing sections shall not apply to Chinese laborers who were in the United States on the seventeenth day of November, eighteen hundred and eighty, or who shall have come into the same before the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act,
SEC. 6. That in order to the faithful execution of articles one and two of the treaty in this act before mentioned, every Chinese person other than a laborer who may be entitled by said treaty and this act to come within the United States, and who shall be about to come to the United States, shall be identified as so entitled by the Chinese Government in each case, such identity to be evidenced by a certificate issued under the authority of said government, which certificate shall be in the English language or (if not in the English language) accompanied by a translation into English, stating such right to come, and which certificate shall state the name, title, or official rank, if any, the age, height, and all physical peculiarities former and present occupation or profession and place of residence in China of the person to whom the certificate is issued and that such person is entitled conformably to the treaty in this act mentioned to come within the Untied States.
SEC. 12. That no Chinese person shall be permitted to enter the United States by land without producing to the proper office of customs the certificate in this act required of Chinese persons seeking to land from a vessel. Any Chinese person found unlawfully within the United States shall be caused to be removed therefrom to the country from whence he came, by direction of the President of the United States, and at the cost of the United States, after being brought before some justice, judge, or commissioner of a court of the United States and found to be one not lawfully entitled to be or remain in the United States.
SEC. 13. That this act shall not apply to diplomatic and other officers of the Chinese Government traveling upon the business of that government, whose credentials shall be taken as equivalent to the certificate in this act mentioned, and shall exempt them and their body and household servants from the provisions of this act as to other Chinese persons.
SEC. 14. That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed.
SEC. 15. That the words “Chinese laborers,” whenever used in this act, shall be construed to mean both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining.
Source: Malloy, ed. Treaties, Conventions, etc. Vol. I, p. 237 ff.; U. S. Statutes at Large, Vol. XXII, p. 58 ff.