The current uproar over immigration in America is not a new phenomenon. In the mid-1800s, a significant number of Chinese immigrants arrived in North America, looking for work around the time of the California Gold Rush and the construction of the country’s first Transcontinental Railroad. When gold was plentiful and workers were in demand, the new arrivals were tolerated. However, when gold became more difficult to find, animosity toward the Chinese and other foreigners increased. By the 1870s, labor leaders blamed Chinese workers for depressing wages, and anti-immigrant resentment followed. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning all immigration from China. The law wasn't repealed until 1943.
Everyone's welcome, with some exceptions...
- The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law ever passed by Congress that prevented all members of a specific ethnic group or nationality from coming to the United States.
- Even though the Chinese made up only a tiny fraction of the U.S. population in the 1870s and 1880s, Congress passed the act to ostensibly address the demands of workers, and tamp down concerns that the country’s “racial purity” was being threatened.
- A Supreme Court case in 1854 had ruled that the Chinese -- like African Americans and Native Americans -- were not allowed to testify in court, making it impossible for Chinese immigrants to seek justice.