Pacific Region

Chinese Exclusion Laws

Background

From 1882 to 1943 the United States Government severely curtailed immigration from China to the United States. This Federal policy resulted from concern over the large numbers of Chinese immigrants. Competition with American workers and a growing nativism brought pressure for restrictive action, which began with the act of May 6, 1882 (22 Stat. 58). Passed by the 47th Congress, this law suspended immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years; permitted those Chinese in the United States as of November 17, 1880, to stay, travel abroad, and return; prohibited the naturalization of Chinese; and created a "Section 6" exempt status for teachers, students, merchants, and travelers. These exempt classes would be admitted upon presentation of a certificate from the Chinese government.

The next significant exclusionary legislation was the "Act to Prohibit the Coming of Chinese Persons into the United States" of May 1892 (27 Stat. 25). Referred to as the Geary Act, it allowed Chinese laborers to travel to China and reenter the United States but its provisions were otherwise more restrictive than preceding immigration laws.  This Act required Chinese to register and secure a certificate as proof of their right to be in the United States. Those who failed to have the required papers or witnesses could be imprisoned or deported. Other restrictive immigration acts affecting citizens of Chinese ancestry followed. During World War II, when China and the United States were allies, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an "Act to Repeal the Chinese Exclusion Acts, to Establish Quotas, and for Other Purposes" (57 Stat. 600-1). This Act of December 13, 1943 also lifted restrictions on naturalization. However, until the Immigration Act of October 1965 (79 Stat. 911) numerous laws continued to have a restrictive impact on Chinese immigration.

Adapted from Chinese Immigration and Chinese in the United States: Records in the Regional Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration
Reference Information Paper 99, Compiled by Waverly Lowell.

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