BFKN is proud to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and we are pleased to recognize the contributions and influence of AAPI Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. Throughout the month of May, we will be spotlighting significant legal cases and developments related to the AAPI community and how those developments have shaped American history. This week, we will be highlighting immigration, in particular, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was the first, and to this day only, major federal legislation to explicitly suspend immigration from a specific nation, and had dramatic impacts on Chinese immigrants and communities in the United States.

Immigration - Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 

The door to the Chinese American dream was slammed shut in 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act was the first significant restriction on free immigration in U.S. history, and it excluded Chinese laborers from the country under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. It also made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens by excluding them from U.S. citizenship. Chinese immigrants in the U.S. had little chance of ever reuniting with their families, or of starting families in their new home.

For all practical purposes, the Exclusion Act, along with the restrictions that followed it, froze the Chinese community in place in 1882, preventing it from growing and barring Chinese immigrants from gaining U.S. citizenship as European immigrant groups were able to. Subsequent restrictive laws, including the Immigration Act of 1917 creating an “Asiatic barred zone” and the 1924 Immigration Act establishing immigration quotas by nation would go even further, excluding all classes of Chinese immigrants and extending restrictions to immigrants from other Asian countries. The Exclusion Act remained in force until the passage of the Magnuson Act in 1943, which repealed the Exclusion Act, but allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants to enter the United States each year. Until nationality-based restrictions were significantly overhauled by the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, Asian immigrants were forced to live a life apart, and to build a society in which they could survive on their own.

To learn more about the Chinese Exclusion Act, click here.

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