Chinese Exclusion Act

Want to learn more about the Chinese exclusion act? Read on to get an overview of this historical act aimed at limiting Chinese immigration to the US.

The U.S federal law that was enforced back in 1882 aimed at barring Chinese immigration to America is known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law remained in force for the next sixty years to come during which Chinese immigration to the U.S was considered to be illegal except under certain special conditions.

Anti-Chinese handbill
Anti-Chinese handbill. Poster. July 23, 1892.

Chinese immigration and the road to the Exclusion Act

It was the California Gold rush in the year 1848 that drew in hoards of young Chinese males to the country. The next subsequent wave of Chinese immigration to America took place in the 1860s. This was when young Chinese males were being recruited by the Central Pacific Railroad company as labor required for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The 1800s in general saw a heavy immigration of the Chinese to the U.S.

The U.S had tolerated and actually welcomed the influx of Chinese immigrants all the while when the surface gold lasted. When the gold reserves on the surface started to exhaust so did the patience of the Americans with the Chinese immigrants. It was during this time that many Chinese workers were driven away from the gold mines.

This saw them moving into San Francisco where they picked up whatever kind of jobs they could find in order to earn a living. Many of them became waiters while others worked at Laundromats. The bulk of Chinese immigrants served as a cheap labor option for the locals.

It was however following the Civil War that Americans began showing great hostility towards the Chinese. On the major part of it this was instigated by the Labor leader Dennis Kearny and the Workingman’s Party. There were other similar groups that started taking action against the Chinese immigrants.

The passing of the Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act is recorded in American history as being the first such official attempt by the state government to bar foreign immigration to the land. The act was very strict against Chinese immigration. All Chinese skilled and unskilled labor, including those who worked in the mining industry was barred from entering the country. If anyone dared to do so he would be subject to ten years imprisonment as well as deportation.

Citizens of China who wanted to make their way to America not in search for labor were still allowed to come under the act. They were however required to obtain a special certification from their government that attested to their qualification to migrate in view of the Exclusion Act.

The Act left many Chinese people who had already made their way to China in disarray. Any laborer who had exited the country was required to obtain reentry certifications which were seldom granted along with which they were even deprived of attaining American citizenship. Many Chinese families were broken up as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The following years saw certain modifications being made in the Act which became even stricter against the Chinese. Whereas some saw the Act as a way of legalizing racial discrimination it was well supported by the local labor unions.

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