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Chinese Exclusion Act of (1882)

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Passed by U.S. Congress in 1882 and signed into law by President CHESTER A. ARTHUR, the Chinese Exclusion Act (22 Stat. 58) created a ten-year MORATORIUM on the immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States. The Act represents the first law ever passed by Congress that denied entry to the United States on the basis of race or ethnicity. Congress indefinitely extended the act in 1902 and made it permanent in 1904. However, it was repealed in its entirety in 1943, when China became an important ally to the United States against Japan. However, its residual effect on Chinese-American relations continued far beyond.

Anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States began during the 1850s' Gold Rush, which eclipsed a period of great poverty in China. Chinese laborers flocked to California, where they soon became an exploited workforce because even the meager wages they earned in California represented far more than they could have earned in their homeland. By the 1870s, clear resentment existed among American miners, who felt their own wages were being held down by the industrious Chinese. U.S. miners also felt that the laborers were sending too much gold back to China, believing the natural resource should stay within the United States. Moreover, the Chinese were beginning to prosper in the laundry business, particularly in overcrowded San Francisco, where Victorian tastes and cultures approved of such domestic indulgences. Mounting political pressure resulted in heated debate, and final passage of the act occurred on May 6, 1882.

Under the provisions of the act, immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States was suspended for ten years. Chinese laborers already in the country were permitted to remain, even following temporary absences, but were barred from naturalization. Illegal immigrants were to be deported. Non-labor Chinese students, teachers, merchants, or those "proceeding to the United States from curiosity" were permitted entry. The act expressly defined "Chinese laborers" as "both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining." Additional provisions of the act levied heavy fines on those who would bring in or "aid and abet" any Chinese person unlawfully within the United States.

Under the Geary Act (making the act permanent), other provisions were added to require Chinese residents in the United States to register and obtain a certificate of residence. This act required that they be photographed and submit photograph copies with local police. Moreover, they had to carry identification with them at all times. The federal government paid for all related costs associated with compliance.

Following an influx of general post-war immigrants during the 1920s, Congress began to implement quotas and requirements pertaining to national origin. By 1943, Congress repealed all exclusion acts, instead leaving in place a yearly limit of 105 Chinese. Further, Congress gave foreign-born Chinese naturalization rights of citizenship. The so-called origin system (with several subsequent modifications) continued to control immigration until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Amendment Acts of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89–836, 79 Stat, 911.

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