Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The seeds of immigrant exclusion laws: banning the Chinese

The month of May 1881 was marked by the most extraordinary anomaly which could possibly have arisen, among a people whose national existence is based on the Declaration of Independence, and the assumption of liberty and equality of all men, without distinction of race or colour.

This extraordinary event was nothing less than that the American Legislature should have yielded to the clamours of the low Irish in California, and to their ceaseless anti-Chinese howl, to the extent of actually passing a law prohibiting all Chinese immigration for the next ten years, beginning from ninety days after the passing of the Act, heavy penalties being inflicted on any Shipmaster who shall land any Chinaman of the labouring class at any port in the Land of Freedom. An exception is made in favour of merchants, diplomatists, travellers, and students, provided they are duly provided with passports!

A law has also been passed to prevent any Chinaman from becoming an American citizen--the fear being that so many might wish to avail themselves of that privilege, that the whole white population of the Pacific coast would ultimately find itself a small minority, and that the Chinese "Six Companies" (mysterious but mighty potentates, who rule all the affairs of their countrymen in California) would actually rule in the Legislature of the State.

That enactments so utterly un-American could have been suffered to pass, appears so extraordinary... Public opinion appears to have been about equally divided on the question, the Eastern States taking part with the Chinamen, the Western States clamouring for his exclusion.

The clamour, however, has carried the day, and for the next ten years no Chinese workman may enter the Golden Gates of the American Paradise.

- Constance Gordon-Cumming, Granite Crags, 1884

Focus: Justice

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