In the mid-19th century, the Chinese joined other nations in migrating to America in search of gold.
However, the gold rush season was short-lived and they started looking for other things to do. Therefore, most of them joined the local workforces and sought for a livelihood like everyone else. Soon, there were many Chinese moving to the country in search of employment. Their increasing presence in the country did not go unnoticed. It was then that a lawyer named H. N. Clement went before a senate committee and announced the evil invasion from the Chinese people. Soon, an investigation began with a calculated intention of portraying the Chinese people negatively to the public. The hatred that they intended caught on fast. In 1882, congress made it into law that all Chinese laborers seeking citizenship by naturalization were barred from the country for ten years. The exclusion however did not apply to students, teachers, travellers, and diplomats. This law became the legal means by which Chinese were barred from migrating or becoming citizens in the US. This law was one of the most unjust laws ever passed in the US, and it had numerous negative consequences.
Looking back in the history of America, it is almost impossible to believe that a law like the Chinese exclusion Act ever existed. However, the evidence of the far-reaching effects of this law is still evident to date. This law was the first of its kind to impose immigration restriction based on race and class. In addition to the suffering and persecution that the Chinese faced before the passing of the law, they faced close to six decades of immigration restriction. The effects of the restrictions also started being felt by other immigrant groups. Due to the success of the law, there was a major shift in the design of the American law towards immigration in general. The exclusion law set precedents in various aspects such as naturalization, documentation, surveillance, and deportation of immigrants. The law changed the American immigration policy to date.
The gatekeeping policy
The use of the term gatekeeping in discourse relating to immigration issue is not new. However, people do not take time to consider the source of this term. There is clear indication that the gatekeeping tradition in American started with the Exclusion Act. Before the closing of the borders to the Chinese, there had been talk of closing the ‘American Gates’ to outsiders. The first of these people became the Chinese. To justify their actions, the idea of exclusion was built on racial prejudice. The Chinese were considered to be inferior due to their culture, labor, gender and relations. Closing the border offered the chance to protect the country from further intrusion by dangerous immigrants. The lawmakers felt that it was within their rights to close their borders to any nation or race they so wished. The racial connotations hidden in law were made clear when Clement, the lawyer pushing the exclusion, declared that America as a nation had the right to declare to the half-civilized Asian subjects not to come. Such a statement is not information founded on concern but rather hatred and disregard for a given race. If a lawyer like clement would use such strong racial language, then was no justice that could be found in passing such laws. That was basis upon which the Supreme Court described the multitude of Chinese people coming to the US as a hoard of dangerous people capable of threatening the country’s peace and security. These were the words that the nation’s highest court used in passing the Exclusion Act.
The racial prejudice against Chinese was now strongly founded on federal law. The basis was the protection of national sovereignty from ruin by a dangerous race. Since that time, the laws of immigration are created based on race, ethnicity, gender, morality, health, political affiliation among other issues. Depending on the period, all these reason have been used as the basis for excluding immigrants from the country. They have even been used in work places to keep immigrants from competing with white workers. That also meant that immigrants were monitored closely for diseases, and moral issues. Laws relating to morality described people with certain moral issue as having constitutional psychopathic inferiority. The fact that racial exclusions were founded on law, gave America the legal framework to close out certain groups of immigrants. This position is a sharp contrast to the popular view of America as a nation built by immigrants. The feeling that it is a land of promise for immigrants from many other nations lacks a basis in this case. The law and specifically the Exclusion Act institutionalized racism. That is why to date, Asian immigrants tell their story based on the limiting American democracy. The gates against immigrants established in 1882 were later extended to other immigrant groups in varying degrees.
The Establishment of Legal Racism
The exclusion of the Chinese people from immigrating to the US created an avenue through which other immigrants could also be restricted. After the Exclusion Act was passed, the call to keep other groups away from the country soon followed. A good example was the call to bar contract workers from other nations from coming to the country. The Exclusion Act was just the beginning of many other such acts that followed soon after. The Foran Act of 1885, for example bared any immigrant contract workers from coming into the country. The Page Act of 1875 bared women perceived to be immoral. Later, in 1903, the Immigration Act barred all prostitutes from moving into the country. The means of establishing this was by barring any unaccompanied woman of any age from admission into the country. The nativity rhetoric was used to create most of these laws. For example, there were claims that immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe had higher birth rates than the natives. Based on this, allowing more immigrants from this region was viewed as race suicide towards Anglo-Americans. The exclusion of Chinese became the basis of measuring how acceptable an immigrant group was. That meant that the Chinese was the worst group there could be among all other immigrant races. Among all the other issues used to bar immigrants from the country, race has played the biggest role to date.
Immigrants from Europe were also barred to a certain degree, although their whiteness made them acceptable. Other races such as Italians were described as ‘guinea’ and immigrants from Slovakia ‘hunky’. The Asian or Mexican races were the most racialized based on their yellowness. In the case of African American’s, though considered the most inferior, they could not be returned to Africa. They were brought in as slaves and they had to be kept as such. That is one reason why the Jim Crow and Segregation laws were established to ensure the African Americans were kept where they belonged. The Chinese were viewed as a complete opposite of Americans. It was not uncommon to compare Asians to the blacks.
It is still hard for historians of American immigration to compare Asian experiences to the European experiences. The Exclusion of Chinese was the beginning of tougher laws and negative attitudes directed towards other Asian groups. After the passage of the Exclusion Act, Americans from many parts of the country became increasingly concerned about other Asian groups coming into the country. They called the government to protect their country and keep it for the white natives. For example, there was increased fear of the Japanese immigrants since they were quite successful and hard working. Unlike the Chinese, they started families, settled, and developed fast. This only renewed the fear that the Chinese had raised before them. It was only a matter of time before restrictions against them would be instituted. Headlines in newspapers across the country announced that a new wave of Asian immigrants was taking the place of the Chinese before them. The descriptions given about the Japanese made them appear even more dangerous than the Chinese. They were seen as unscrupulous, tricky, aggressive, and even warlike. These descriptions were similar to those given to the Chinese only a few years before. It was not hard to tell what these views would result into in the near future. One of the charismatic leaders of the white workmen, Denis Kearney, claimed that the Japanese were flocking the country in their numbers to take up the gaps created by the Chinese. He claimed that it was time to declare that the Japanese must go. At the time, it was common for politicians to run for elective positions under the slogans of Asian exclusion. Ironically, the slogans they had used to declare the Chinese a threat now changed to accommodate the new Japanese threat. They now called for the exclusion of the Asians. For example, a group that initially called itself Japanese-Korean Exclusion League changed its name to the Asian Exclusion League. The restructuring was for purposes of fighting a new threat creeping into the country.
The Hindus were soon enjoined to the group of those who should be expelled from the country. They were described as the worst type of immigrant groups. There were even worse descriptions such as emaciated, sickly, cheap, dirty, and diseased. Those who pushed for their exclusion claimed that such people had no right whatsoever to become citizens. Another group that soon became the target of the exclusionists was the Mexicans. Also seen as racial inferiors, many felt that they would soon replace white farm laborers. It is easy to see how all these racial prejudices relate back to the Chinese exclusion. The exclusion Act laid the ground for injustice, hatred, and disregard of other races. Although the white supremacists were also immigrants from Europe, they felt that they owned the rights of nativity. Allowing other races that were inferior to infiltrate the country was exposing the white race to pollution. It is now clear that the Exclusion Act is one of the most unjust laws ever made in the United States.
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