Last updated on: 1/30/2017 | Author:

May 6, 1882 – Chinese Exclusion Act Passes and Immigration Exclusion Era Begins

“In the beginning Congress created the Chinese Exclusion Act… That May 1882 statute, which has long been treated as a minor if somewhat disreputable incident, can now be seen as a nodal point in the history of American immigration policy. It marked the moment when the golden doorway of admission to the United States began to narrow and initiated a thirty-nine-year period of successive exclusions of certain kinds of immigrants, 1882-1921, followed by twenty two years, 1921-43, when statutes and administrative actions set narrowing numerical limits for those immigrants who had not otherwise been excluded. During those years a federal burocracy was created to control immigration and immigrants, a bureaucracy whose initial raison d’être was to keep out first Chinese and then others who were deemed inferior.”

“In response to a remarkable intensity of complaint on the West Coast, which was increasingly expressed nationwide, Congress moved rapidly toward a historic reversal of the tradition of laissez-faire in immigration matters… [and] by wide margins passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, suspending the admission of Chinese laborers for ten years… It was the first sharp curtailment of immigration to America and was extended with minor adjustments for sixty years… A new tradition of restricting U.S. immigration through federal policy had begun… The Chinese Exclusion Act, with its misleading, inept title and other flaws apparent to people living a century later, prevented what had been building as a massive and sustained immigration of Chinese laborers to Jinshan-‘the Golden Mountain.'”