Asian Exclusion Laws

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There were a very large number of local, state, and federal laws that were specifically aimed at disrupting the flow of Chinese and Japanese immigrants to the United States. Two of the major laws were the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1907-1908 Gentleman s Agreement. Although the laws had some differences, they were quite similar and had similar impacts on the immigrant population. The 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, which outlawed Chinese immigration. It also explicitly denied naturalization rights to Chinese, meaning they were not allowed to become citizens, as they were not free whites. Prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act, some 300,000 laborers arrived in California, and the act was intended to primarily prevent the entry of more laborers. The passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first attempt by congress to ban a group of immigrants based on race or color. The only Chinese that legally entered the United States during the six decades the Exclusion Act was in place were those in exempted classes such as merchants, students, diplomats, and travelers (Chan). An unknown number illegally entered through the Canadian and Mexican borders and many others entered as paper sons. The act did not prevent Chinese immigration per se; it simply prevented most legal immigration. The 1907-1908 Gentleman s Agreement was the result of a conflict between the San Francisco school board and the Asian (particularly Japanese) community related to school segregation. President Roosevelt made an agreement with the Japanese government. In exchange for the school board s allowing Japanese students to attend white schools in California, the Japanese government agreed to stop issuing passports to laborers. (Chan) Despite the enactment of the Gentleman s Agreement, some 120,000 Japanese arrived in California during the fifteen years proceeding the agreement (Chan). The two pieces of legislation were similar in that they attempted to halt the immigration of laborers. It seemed the United States government was sending a message that they wanted only educated, professional immigrants from Asian countries, and there was no longer a need for the laborers they once welcomed. The Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentleman s Agreement were both blatant attempts by the United States to close the door to Asian immigrants. While other pieces of legislation were merely punitive to the immigrants already here, such as the Alien Land Laws and the Foreign Miners Tax, these clearly aimed to deny Asian immigrants entry to the United States. The Gentle

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