The Asiatic Exclusion League concentrated on opposing Japanese immigration, but it was against the immigration of all Asians, including Koreans and Hindus from India. It opposed Chinese immigration, too, but Chinese immigrants were already effectively blocked from entering the United States during the early twentieth century. By constantly reinforcing negative stereotypes of Japanese as “coolies” who threatened the American way of life, the league contributed to the passage of anti-Japanese legislation at the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941.
The Asiatic Exclusion League was a white supremacist organization active along the West Coast of the United States and Canada through the early twentieth century. Its supporters were primarily English-speaking labor union members who opposed all forms of Asian immigration because of the downward pressure on wages that Asian immigrants caused. Wage preservation was the reason most often cited for the need to restrict Asian immigration. The vast majority of Asian immigrants were unskilled laborers who did not speak English and could not qualify for labor union membership. They consequently would have had only a minimal impact on union wages.
The AEL was actually a latecomer in a series of anti-Asian immigration bodies and movements. The AEL feared massive Asian immigration, due to real or imaginary problems of social integration, language and cultural barriers, increased crime, and depressed wages. Tacitly understood among the various anti-Asian groups was the idea that America and its opportunities should be reserved for peoples of European descent, preferably English-speaking peoples.
Anti-Asian sentiment had long played a role in American politics, beginning with various pieces of legislation such as the
Although AEL membership comprised mainly labor union members and leaders, the organization was influential at the state level, particularly in California, whose state attorney general argued in favor of laws to prohibit Asians from owning property and mandated that Asian children should attend segregated public schools. The AEL also lobbied successfully on the national level, finding members of Congress willing to vote against legislation that would ease existing restrictions on Asian immigration. One particularly vehement anti-Asian congressman was E. A. Haynes
The AEL helped pressure the U.S. Congress to ask President
Federal government discrimination against persons of Japanese descent continued until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an immigration reform bill that granted persons of Asian ethnicity equal standing with those of European descent for immigration purposes.
Hyung-chan, Kim. Asian Americans and Congress: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Provides an analysis of U.S. policies on Asian immigration from 1790 to the 1990’s. Discusses general stereotypes Americans held about Asians, and how those stereotypes influenced specific pieces of legislation restricting Asian immigration. Ingram, W. Scott. Japanese Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2004. Young-adult book that focuses on when and why Japanese immigrants came to the United States. Also covers the history of attempts by Japanese to assimilate into American society and the legal and social discrimination they faced. Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. Very readable history of Asian Americans by a leading Japanese American scholar that draws upon a variety of primary sources, from newspapers to court cases. Teitelbaum, Michael. Chinese Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2004. Young-adult book that traces the history of Chinese immigration to the United States. Includes a time line of immigration events as well as U.S. legislation relevant to Asian immigration. Also touches on the role Chinese and Chinese Americans play in current U.S. economy and politics. Tichenor, Daniel. Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. Comprehensive history of U.S. immigration policy that highlights shifts in restrictionist policies.
Alien land laws
Asian American Legal Defense Fund
Asiatic Barred Zone
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Japanese American Citizens League