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United States v. Wong Kim Ark

The Locked Golden Gate

In August of 1895, Wong Kim Ark returned to his native San Francisco from China aboard the steamship Coptic. When the ship docked, Wong was detained by customs officials who refused to accept his claim that he was an American citizen.

Anti-Chinese laws became a reality a decade before Wong's detention. Railroad owners, mining companies, and other industrial interests in western American states had once welcomed the Chinese as a source of cheap labor. By the 1870s, the backlash from labor unions and non-Chinese workers unwilling to work for low wages pressured the U.S. government to restrict immigration from Asia. The United States and Chinese governments signed a treaty in 1880 agreeing that the United States could regulate but not prohibit the migration of Chinese to America. The signers of the Angell's Treaty did not foresee the energy with which anti-Chinese forces in the U.S. Congress would try to "regulate" Asians out of American life.

In 1880 and 1882, Congress passed a series of laws collectively known as the Chinese Exclusion Acts. These laws suspended the entry of any Chinese laborers into the United States for 10 years and threatened heavy fines for any shipmaster convicted of landing Chinese illegally. Ten classes of Chinese were exempted from the law, including teachers, ministers, diplomats, students, and others who were considered likely to return to their homeland. Significantly, Chinese born in the United States and their children were included among the ten exempt classes.

In 1888, Congress contravened Angell's Treaty by passing The Scott Act, prohibiting Chinese laborers from entering the United States. The 1892 Geary Act forbade the use of writs of habeas corpus by any Chinese arrested while in the United States, thus denying aliens the right to challenge deportation proceedings. The constitutionality of this law was upheld by the Supreme Court on 15 May 1893 in Fong Yue Teng v. United States.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917United States v. Wong Kim Ark - The Locked Golden Gate, A Successful Writ, A Question Of Birthright, Further Readings