The New Chinese? Long before Muslims, there was a Chinese immigration ban

A Chinese immigration ban explicitly excluded Chinese from the United States.

Chinese immigration ban

Uncle Sam being swallowed by Chinese and Irish immigrants

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese laborers from entering the country under penalty of imprisonment and deportation.

It came at a time when the US was struggling with high unemployment.  Although the Chinese composed only .002 percent of the population, Congress passed the exclusion act to appease worker demands and ease anxieties about white “racial purity.”

The act was renewed in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal.

Permanent Aliens

Chinese immigration ban

A soap advertisement from the 1880s, sub-titled ‘The Chinese Must Go’

Even Chinese who had already settled in the United States were affected by the Chinese Exclusion Act.  Any Chinese who left the United States had to obtain certifications for reentry.

The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended citizenship rights to African Americans but barred Chinese from naturalization on the grounds that they and other Asians could not be assimilated into American society. Unable to become citizens, Chinese immigrants were prohibited from voting and serving on juries, and dozens of states passed alien land laws that prohibited non-citizens from purchasing real estate, thus preventing them from establishing permanent homes and businesses.

Because they could never become citizens, the Act made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens.

Chinatowns are today seen as entertainment venues, where Chinese Americans shop for groceries and sell food and trinkets to outsiders. But, historically, these were ghettos to which Chinese Americans had retreated in order to find community support against discriminatory laws and rampant hate crimes committed against them.

The laws were driven largely by racial concerns; immigration of persons of other races was unlimited during this period.

For all practical purposes, the Exclusion Act, along with the restrictions that followed it, froze the Chinese community in place in 1882.

Trump on Friday signed an executive order banning people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for a minimum of 90 days.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is the closest cousin to Trump’s proposed “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States.

When it was initially signed into law by US President Chester A Arthur in 1882, the act was supposed to last 10 years.  It turned into 60.


Chinese immigration ban

Chinese locusts infesting America

One of the anti-Chinese laws mandated that Chinese had to carry photo identification on them at all times. Tens of thousands refused to comply by refusing to register.

Trump said in 2015 that he “would certainly implement” a database system tracking Muslims in the United States.

After the 1906 Great Earthquake of San Francisco caused a fire that destroyed public documents, many Chinese came to the US as so-called Paper Sons.  They claimed to be the children of existing US residents.  Having these false names is a source of pride – a reminder of resilience – to many modern-day Chinese Americans.

Chinese immigrants who did attempt to enter the US during exclusion were commonly held at the Angel Island immigration station in San Francisco Bay for days, weeks, even months. Hundreds of poems are carved into the barracks walls at Angel Island. Reads one (in English translation):
America has power, but not justice.
In prison, we were victimized as if we were guilty.
Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.
I bow my head in reflection but there is
nothing I can do.
 Sources: CNBC, Aljazeera, Wikipedia




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