Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)

In the spring of 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur. This act provided an absolute 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. For the first time, Federal law proscribed entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities.

The Chinese Exclusion Act required the few nonlaborers who sought entry to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate. But this group found it increasingly difficult to prove that they were not laborers because the 1882 act defined excludables as "skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining." Thus very few Chinese could enter the country under the 1882 law.

The 1882 exclusion act also placed new requirements on Chinese who had already entered the country. If they left the United States, they had to obtain certifications to re-enter. Congress, moreover, refused State and Federal courts the right to grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens, although these courts could still deport them.

When the exclusion act expired in 1892, Congress extended it for 10 years in the form of the Geary Act. This extension, made permanent in 1902, added restrictions by requiring each Chinese resident to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Without a certificate, she or he faced deportation.

The Geary Act regulated Chinese immigration until the 1920s. With increased postwar immigration, Congress adopted new means for regulation: quotas and requirements pertaining to national origin. By this time, anti-Chinese agitation had quieted. In 1943 Congress repealed all the exclusion acts, leaving a yearly limit of 105 Chinese and gave foreign-born Chinese the right to seek naturalization. The so-called national origin system, with various modifications, lasted until Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965. Effective July 1, 1968, a limit of 170,000 immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere could enter the United States, with a maximum of 20,000 from any one country. Skill and the need for political asylum determined admission. The Immigration Act of 1990 provided the most comprehensive change in legal immigration since 1965. The act established a "flexible" worldwide cap on family-based, employment-based, and diversity immigrant visas. The act further provides that visas for any single foreign state in these categories may not exceed 7 percent of the total available.- US National Archives



Y/M/D Description Place
1882/00/00 US Senator George Frisbie Hoar calls the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 "nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination". US Senate Chamber, United States Capitol
1882/05/06 President Chester A Arthur signs The Chinese Exclusion Act. It is the first significant law restricting immigration into the United States.
1892/05/04 President Benjamin Harrison signs into law the Geary Act, an extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was made permanent in 1902.
1906/04/21 The quake and 3 days of fires destroys about 500 square blocks of downtown San Francisco, destroying key municipal building, and a large number of municipal documents, including birth and immigration records. San Francisco Civic Center Historic District, San Francisco
1906/05/00 Thousands of Chinese immigrants living in the US claim US citizenship and report that their records had been lost in the San Francisco earthquake. In most cases, citizenship was granted, along with the legal right to bring family members from China.
1906/07/00 Immigration brokers sell fake documents to people in China who wanted to immigrate, usually male "paper sons", and would be illegally sponsor by their "paper fathers" in the US.
1907/00/00 US immigration officials question Chinese immigrants for hours or even days. Paper children and their paper parents would be quested separately and the answers had to match. Immigrants memorized rigorous dossiers known as coaching papers. Angel Island, US Immigration Station, Angel Island, CA
1920/12/30 After a month at sea, the Wongs arrive at Angel Island Immigration Station. The elder Mr Wong was traveling as a merchant named Look Get and his son, Tyrus, as Look Tai Yow. Angel Island, US Immigration Station, Angel Island, CA
1921/01/27 After his father has already been interviewed in the presence of an interpreter and a stenographer, young Gen Yeo, posing as Look Tai Yow, is interrogated by US immigration officials. Gen Yeo answers correctly. Angel Island, US Immigration Station, Angel Island, CA
1943/12/17 President Franklin D Roosevelt signs the Magnuson Act, repealing the Chinese Exclusion Act.
2023/12/04 The SF Department of Elections announces that they will begin following a 2019 CA state law that allows candidates to use Chinese names if they were born with them or have been using the names for at least two years. San Francisco, California

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Cultural Affiliation: Chinese American

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