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What Was the Asian Exclusion Act?

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  • Originally Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
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  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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The Asian Exclusion Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1924 as part of the Immigration Act of 1924. It is an example of race-specific legislation designed to restrict people's freedom of movement based on their race and national origin, and it has been heavily criticized by historians. The Asian Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 with the passing of the Magnuson Act, which instituted quotas for immigrants from around the world. In 1965, the Immigration Act passed the House and the Senate by a large margin, and it abolished quotas for immigrants based on national origin.

The roots of the Asian Exclusion Act lie in the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was passed in 1882. The Chinese Exclusion Act prevented all Chinese immigration specifically, and it was renewed in 1892 after it expired. In 1902, the Chinese Exclusion act was renewed again, this time for an indefinite period. Both pieces of legislation were passed in response to the idea that Asian immigrants posed a threat to American society.

On the West Coast, especially, Asians had been seeking their fortunes since the mid-1800s. Some of these immigrants worked hard to achieve their goals, but they were unable to become citizens or own land. They also faced discrimination from many Americans.

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Despite the already severe legal and social restrictions on Asian immigration, some Americans felt that immigration should be forbidden altogether. In arguments that seem familiar to followers of the modern immigration debate, Asians were accused of taking jobs and causing social unrest. Especially in California, Asians and Chinese people in particular were already limited to living in highly dense housing clusters that were prone to fire and violence. Modern-day Chinatown in San Francisco might be a popular tourist destination, but it was once the only place in the city where Chinese people could safely live.

In the early 1920s, growing concerns about immigration from all over the world led to the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely restricted immigration by creating national quotas. The Asian Exclusion Act specifically targeted Asian immigrants, essentially guaranteeing that they would never qualify for naturalization or land ownership. Despite the restrictions of the Asian Exclusion Act, many Asians continued to immigrate into the U.S. illegally, because they felt that the country offered more opportunities than they had in their native countries.

Like other laws that focused on specific races, the Asian Exclusion Act has since been condemned by historians, lawmakers and citizens, especially people of Asian descent. It is considered to be an important part of U.S. history, however, especially because some Americans are unaware of the widespread discrimination that was faced by Asians until the middle of the 20th century. The Asian Exclusion Act also has been frequently referenced in the discussion about immigration to the U.S. in the 21st century — usually as an example of what not to do.

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anon354582
Post 6

I doing research for a school project as nurses are learning to integrate culture into their professional care. I am so very sad that any human population has had to endure in the name of racial differences. I suppose it is supposed to be accepted as normal since even today people cannot accept their differences and realize we are all one human family.

anon337462
Post 5

What this article fails to mention is that the Immigration Act of 1924 *worked*. The US needed time to assimilate the huge number of immigrants that had arrived in the preceding decades. The 1924 Act provided that breathing space.

FitzMaurice
Post 3

@Leonidas226

Not just those three groups, but all East Asians can be targeted because of how they look and labeled as "Chinese." You couldn't understand how infuriating it is to be constantly called "Chinese" when I am Korean. It is like calling an Englishman "French." Maybe even worse.

Leonidas226
Post 2

I can recall a distinct caricature which depicted America as being invaded by Chinese and Irish. The Irish stood up for themselves and eventually came to be a distinct part of this country. There were also fewer cultural differences between the Irish and the Americans of the time than between Chinese and Americans. Since the time of these caricatures, the Irish have come to become a politically and culturally dominant group in America, while the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese, have continued to face issues of discrimination to this very day.

Renegade
Post 1

It seems that there has been little to no public outcry against discrimination against Asians. Asians have been a persecuted minority in the West for a very long time, and yet have silently chosen to either join in in self-mockery for the sake of self-defense, or simply bear their lot silently. I think that cultural constraints make it more difficult for Asians to stand up for their rights, and that we in the West should recognize what a difficult plight they have had and continue to have in seeking to adapt to our culture.

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