Magnuson Act Repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Magnuson Act repealed Asian exclusion laws passed in the nineteenth century. It opened the way for further immigration reforms, which eventually allowed a vast number of Chinese people to immigrate to the United States and become citizens.

Summary of Event

The Magnuson Act (also known as the Immigration Act of 1943) was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 17, 1943. It ended the era of legal exclusion of Chinese immigrants to the United States and began an era during which sizable numbers of Chinese and other Asian immigrants came to the country. It thus helped bring about significant changes in race relations in the United States. Magnuson Act (1943) Immigration Act (1943) Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act (1943) Immigration;United States Chinese Americans Racial and ethnic discrimination;Chinese Americans [kw]Magnuson Act Repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act (Dec. 17, 1943) [kw]Chinese Exclusion Act, Magnuson Act Repeals the (Dec. 17, 1943) [kw]Act Repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act, Magnuson (Dec. 17, 1943) Magnuson Act (1943) Immigration Act (1943) Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act (1943) Immigration;United States Chinese Americans Racial and ethnic discrimination;Chinese Americans [g]North America;Dec. 17, 1943: Magnuson Act Repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act[01030] [g]United States;Dec. 17, 1943: Magnuson Act Repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act[01030] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Dec. 17, 1943: Magnuson Act Repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act[01030] [c]Social issues and reform;Dec. 17, 1943: Magnuson Act Repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act[01030] Magnuson, Warren G. Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;immigration policy Chiang Soong Mei-ling

The first wave of Chinese immigrants to the United States came from the Pearl River Delta region in southern China. The immigrants began coming to California in 1848 during the gold rush and continued to come to the western states as miners, railroad builders, farmers, fishermen, and factory workers. Most were men. Many came as contract laborers and intended to return to China. Anti-Chinese feelings, begun during the gold rush and expressed in mob actions and local discriminatory laws, culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) of 1882, barring the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years.

The act was renewed in 1892, applied to Hawaii when those islands were annexed by the United States in 1898, and made permanent in 1904. Another law, passed in 1924, made Asians ineligible for U.S. citizenship and disallowed Chinese wives of U.S. citizens to immigrate to the United States. As a result, the Chinese population in the United States declined from a peak of 107,475 in 1880 to 77,504 in 1940.

The passage of the Magnuson Act, which repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, inaugurated profound changes in the status of ethnic Chinese citizens and residents of the United States. It made Chinese immigrants, many of whom had lived in the United States for years, eligible for citizenship. It also allowed a minuscule quota of 105 Chinese persons per year to immigrate to the United States. The 1943 bill was a result of U.S. recognition of China’s growing international status under the post-1928 Nationalist government, as well as growing U.S. sympathy for China’s heroic resistance to Japanese aggression after 1937. It also was intended to counter Japanese wartime propaganda aimed at discrediting the United States among Asians by portraying it as a racist nation.

World War II was a turning point for Chinese-U.S. relations. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, China and the United States became allies against the Axis Powers. Chiang Soong Mei-ling—wife of China’s wartime leader, Chiang Kai-shek—won widespread respect and sympathy for China during her visit to the United States. She was the second female foreign leader and the first Chinese national to address a joint session of Congress. In 1943, the United States and Great Britain also signed new equal treaties with China that ended a century of international inequality for China. These events and the contributions of Chinese Americans in the war favorably affected the position and status of Chinese Americans. The 1943 act also opened the door for other legislation that eventually allowed more Chinese to immigrate to the United States. In the long run, these laws had a major impact on the formation of Chinese families in the United States.

The War Brides Act War Brides Act (1945) of 1945, for example, permitted foreign-born wives of U.S. soldiers to enter the United States and become naturalized. Approximately six thousand Chinese women entered the United States during the next years as wives of U.S. servicemen. An amendment to this act, passed in 1946, put the Chinese wives and children of U.S. citizens outside the quota, resulting in the reunion of many separated families and allowing ten thousand Chinese, mostly wives, as well as children of U.S. citizens of Chinese ethnicity, to enter the country during the next eight years.

The Displaced Persons Act Displaced Persons Act (1948) of 1948 granted permanent resident status and eventually the right of citizenship to 3,465 Chinese students, scholars, and others stranded in the United States by the widespread civil war that erupted between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists after the end of World War II. The Refugee Relief Act Refugee Relief Act (1953) of 1953 allowed an additional 2,777 refugees to remain in the United States after the civil war ended in a Communist victory that established the People’s Republic of China. Some Chinese students from the Republic of China on Taiwan, who came to study in the United States after 1950 and found employment and sponsors after the end of their studies, were also permitted to remain and were eligible for naturalization.

Significance

Beginning with the Magnuson Act, the four immigration acts passed between 1943 and 1953—which allowed individuals of Chinese descent to immigrate to the United States—can be viewed as a result of shifting relations between the United States and the Chinese government and culture as a whole. They arose out of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of China in World War II, as well as U.S. involvement in the Chinese civil war that followed. In a wider context, they were also the result of changing views on race and race relations that World War II and related events brought about. Finally, they heralded the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments (1965) of 1965, which would revolutionize U.S. immigration policy by ending racial quotas. Its most dramatic consequence was the significant increase of Asian immigrants in general and Chinese immigrants in particular into the United States.

These new immigrants changed the makeup of Chinese American society and caused a change in the way the Chinese were perceived by the majority groups in the United States. Whereas most of the earlier immigrants tended to live in ghettoized Chinatowns, were poorly educated, and overwhelmingly worked in low-status jobs as laundrymen, miners, or railroad workers, the new immigrants were highly educated, cosmopolitan, and professional. They came from the middle class, traced their roots to all parts of China, had little difficulty acculturating and assimilating into the academic and professional milieu of peoples of European ethnicity in the United States, and tended not to live in Chinatowns. The latter group was mainly responsible for revolutionizing the way Chinese Americans were perceived in the United States. Magnuson Act (1943) Immigration Act (1943) Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act (1943) Immigration;United States Chinese Americans Racial and ethnic discrimination;Chinese Americans

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chan, Sucheng, ed. Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 1882-1943. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991. Articles from nine scholars on different facets of the era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chen, Jack. The Chinese of America. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980. A comprehensive summary with tables, graphs, and maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kim, Hyung-chan, ed. Asian Americans and Congress: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Compilation of documents with commentary. Includes the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Magnuson Act, other relevant acts of the 1940’s, and the Immigration Act of 1965.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Min, Pyong Gap, ed. Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1995. A collection of essays that gives an overall picture of Asian American issues.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riggs, Fred W. Pressure on Congress: A Study of the Repeal of Chinese Exclusion. 1950. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972. A detailed account of the reasons for the repeal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steiner, Stanley. Fusang: The Chinese Who Built America. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. This book is sympathetic toward the Chinese; it is suitable for students and general readers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sung, Betty Lee. Mountain of Gold: The Story of the Chinese in America. New York: I Company, 1967. A good overview on Chinese immigration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tung, William L. The Chinese in America, 1870-1973: Chronology and a Fact Book. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1974. Useful and informative.

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