At the height of World War II, when the United States needed to promote goodwill with China, Congress repealed an 1882 federal immigration statute restricting all Chinese from entering the country and considerably eased the process of naturalization for those Chinese already residing in America.
Beginning with the discovery of gold in California in 1848, Chinese immigrants flooded into the state, driven from their home by waves of civil unrest and catastrophic famines. Even as the prospect of gold mining diminished, these immigrants found ready work building the
Congressman Warren G. Magnuson in December, 1944.
By 1882, more than 300,000 Chinese had emigrated–a number viewed with alarm–fueling the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which essentially closed America to any Chinese immigrants and denied citizenship to any Chinese already residing in the United States. It was the first time Congress had ever prohibited specific immigration. Initially, the ban was to last for ten years, but it was extended and ultimately made permanent in 1902. Numerous lawsuits unsuccessfully challenged the act as discriminatory, racist, and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Lifting the ban on Chinese immigration reflected political expediency during World War II. In the middle of a difficult land war in the Far East, with Japan using America’s anti-Chinese sentiments as propaganda in an effort to derail China’s alliance with the Allied Powers, the U.S. War Department moved to have the
The token quota did not mollify those who feared the economic and cultural impact of any surge of Far East immigrants: Chinese immigrants could pursue entry into the country through other nations. To assuage such xenophobic fears, Congress determined that for the Chinese, immigration status would be determined not by country of origin (as it was for Europeans) but rather by ethnicity. Thus, if a Chinese family living in the Philippines applied for entry, they would be counted as Chinese.
Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Press, 2003. Lee, Erika. At America’s Gate: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Yung, Judy, Gordon Chang, and Him Mark Lai, eds. Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
Angel Island Immigration Station
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Fiancées Act of 1946
Geary Act of 1892
History of immigration after 1891
Immigration Act of 1924
United States v. Ju Toy
World War II