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  • "That statue represents Liberty holding a torch which lights the passage [...] But are the Chinese allowed to come?" - Saum Song Bo in an open letter to The Sun newspaper, 1885

  • After 12 years living in California, Chinese citizen Chae Chan Ping was ready for a visit home.

  • He procured the necessary documents for his departure and return journey, and set sail for China, where he spent the next year reconnecting with friends and family.

  • But when he returned to San Francisco on October 8th, 1888, Ping and his fellow immigrant passengers were forbidden to disembark.

  • Just days earlier, President Grover Cleveland had signed the Scott Act, which invalidated the legal documents allowing their re-entry to the United States.

  • This policy threatened to separate families and deprive Chinese immigrants of their homes and livelihoods.

  • Ping challenged the ruling, beginning a legal battle for the rights of thousands of Chinese immigrants.

  • But his case inspired an even more controversial policy that continues to impact immigrants around the globe.

  • Discrimination against Chinese immigrants had begun decades earlier, when the California Gold Rush created a massive demand for labor.

  • Initially, Chinese immigrants were welcomed as reliable workers and became essential parts of frontier communities.

  • Many built railroads and worked in the mines, while others operated laundries, restaurants, and general stores.

  • The 1868 Burlingame Treaty even granted China favored trading status with the US, and allowed unrestricted migration between the two countries.

  • But as large numbers of Chinese immigrants found success, American workers began to see them as a threat.

  • Politicians and labor leaders denounced them for driving down wages, and violence against Chinese individuals became increasingly common.

  • This anti-Chinese sentiment soon found its way into California's courts.

  • In 1854, following a murder trial where a white man was convicted of murdering a Chinese man,

  • the California Supreme Court overturned the conviction, holding that Chinese eyewitness testimony was inadmissible.

  • The court declared that Chinese citizens could not testify against white defendants, citing similar precedents forbidding testimony by Black and Native American individuals.

  • This decision effectively legalized violence against California's Chinese population, inspiring mob attacks and campaigns for segregation.

  • Before long, anti-Chinese sentiment reached the federal level.

  • In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law that restricted immigration based explicitly on nationality.

  • In practice, the Act banned entry to all ethnically Chinese immigrants besides diplomats, and prohibited existing immigrants from obtaining citizenship.

  • It also meant Chinese individuals couldn't leave the United States and return without first applying for a certificate of re-entry.

  • This policy remained in place until October 1st, 1888, when the Scott Act prohibited re-entry altogether, stranding Chae Chan Ping and thousands of other Chinese immigrants.

  • In court, Ping argued he had followed the proper protocol obtaining his re-entry certificate, and the government had not honored his legally issued document.

  • This argument was strong enough to send his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

  • But the justices ruled against Ping, invalidating thousands of legal re-entry certificates in one fell swoop.

  • The decision led to Ping's deportation and left up to 20,000 Chinese immigrants unable to return to the US.

  • But arguably even more important than the court's racist ruling was the logic they used to support it.

  • Traditionally, the Supreme Court is considered a check on the other two branches of American government, offering judgment on policies passed by Congress and the president.

  • In this case, however, the court stated they had no power to pass judgment on the Scott Act since Congress had declared the immigration policy "a matter of national security."

  • This decision set a unique precedent.

  • Unless Ping's case was overturned, congressional and executive branches could claim national security concerns to pass whatever immigration laws they wanted.

  • Throughout the 20th century, xenophobic government officials used this power to freely discriminate against immigrant groups.

  • The 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act prohibited the entry of all South Asians.

  • And a series of immigration acts in the 1920s expanded restrictions throughout Asia, Eastern Europe, and southern Europe.

  • Many of these restrictions were lifted after World War II, and the Chinese Exclusion Act itself was finally repealed in 1943 — over 60 years after it was enacted.

  • But the US government continues to use this precedent to deploy sudden and sweeping immigration policies, targeting journalists and dissidents as well as ethnic groups.

  • Little is known about what became of Chae Chan Ping following his deportation.

  • But the injustices visited upon him and thousands of other Chinese Americans continue to impact immigrant rights and liberties.

  • The Chinese Exclusion Act wouldn't be the last time America violated human rights at its own principles in the name of "belonging."

  • Learn about the Japanese-American incarceration camps of World War II with this video.

"That statue represents Liberty holding a torch which lights the passage [...] But are the Chinese allowed to come?" - Saum Song Bo in an open letter to The Sun newspaper, 1885

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The dark history of the Chinese Exclusion Act - Robert Chang

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    shuting1215 posted on 2022/04/24
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