A Legal History of Chinese-Americans


  1. An Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, March 26, 1790. The act provided for "all free white persons" be given the right of citizenship; it also recognized the principle of jus sanguinis, so that "the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens." (1 Stat. 104). Repealed on January 29, 1795 by An Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization; and to repeal the act heretofore on that subject." (1 Stat. 414). ES)

  2. Naturalization Act of 1795. The first naturalization law in the United States restricted citizenship to "free white persons" who had resided in the country for five years. (TCL)

  3. An Act concerning Aliens, June 25, 1798, authorized the president to expel any alien considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States." (1 Stat. 507) The Act also provided for aliens residing in the U.S. without permission to be deported; ships carrying aliens were required to report their name, age, place of nativity, occupation, and physical description to the government [LHA at 35].(ES)

  4. An Act respecting Alien Enemies, July 6, 1798 (LHA at 35), empowered the president to take steps against citizens of nations hostile against the U. S. (1 Stat. 577)(ES)

  5. An Act to Provide for the Ventilation of Passenger Vessels, and for other Purposes, May 17, 1848 (9. Stat. 221-22). Extended to cover Pacific immigration on March 3, 1849 [LHA at 46].(ES)

  6. An Act to prohibit the 'Coolie Trade' by American Citizens in American Vessels, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, 1862. Between 1847 and 1859, some 50,000 "coolies" were transported on American ships with an estimated 18 percent casualty rate [LHA at 49]. This Act both discouraged American participation in the "coolie trade," but also expressly provided for the right of Chinese to freely and voluntarily emigrate to the U.S. so long as they received a permit signed by an American consular agent at the port of departure [LHA at 50]. Amended 1869 to extend the ban on transporting "the inhabitants or subjects of Japan or of any other oriental country, known as coolies." [15 Stat. 269, LHA at 52](ES)

  7. An Act to Secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain, May 1862. Made public lands available to immigrants eligible for U.S. citizenship; Chinese immigrants, ineligible for citizenship, could not benefit from the Homestead Act [LHA 50-51].(ES)

  8. An Act to Encourage Immigration, July 4, 1864. The Act authorized the president to appoint a commissioner of immigration under the State department [LHA at 51].(ES)

  9. An Act to amend the Naturalization Laws and to punish Crimes against the same, and for other Purposes, July 14, 1870 [16 Stat. 256, LHA at 53]. Conferred the right to naturalization to aliens of African descent; the "Sumner bill," which would have conferred the same right to naturalization upon Chinese, was defeated [LHA at 53].(ES)

  10. Page Law, March 3, 1875. Chapter 141.-An act supplementary to the acts in relation to immigration "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress-assembled, That in determining whether the immigration of any subject of China, Japan, or any Oriental country, to the United States, is free and voluntary, as provided by section two thousand one hundred and sixty two of the Revised Code, title "Immigration," it shall be the duty of the consul-general or consul of the United States residing at the port from which it is proposed to convey such subjects, in any vessels enrolled or licensed in the United States, or any port within the same, before delivering to the masters of any such vessels the permit or certificate provided for in such section, in ascertain for a term of service within the United States, for lewd and immoral purposes; and if there be such contract or agreement, the said consul-general or consul shall not deliver the required permit or certificate...."(TCL)

  11. A Bill Forbidding Ships from Bringing More than 15 Chinese at a time to the U.S., 1879 [LHA at 59](ES)

  12. Miller Bill, 1881 [LHA at 60]. The Miller Bill was submitted by a Senator Miller of California, who urged his senate colleagues to pass the bill immediately because Miller was convinced that if Chinese were allowed in the U.S. in "large numbers," the resulting racial conflicts would be the ruin of "American civilization" [LHA at 60]. The bill provided for the suspension of immigration of skilled, as well as unskilled, Chinese laborers for 20 years. It was passed by Congress but vetoed by President Chester Arthur on April 4, 1882 based on conflicts in the bill with the Burlingame Treaty.(ES)

  13. An act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to Chinese, May 6, 1882, 22 Stat. 58 [LHA at 60]. Also known as the Chinese Restriction Act of 1882, the act suspended immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years.

    It provides in part:

    Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof. . .

    SEC. 1. That from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until the expiration of ten years next after the passage, of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be, and the same hereby, suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration of said ninety days, to remain within the United States.

    SEC. 2. That the master of any vessel who shall knowingly bring within the United States on such vessel, and land or permit to be landed, any Chinese laborer, from any foreign port or place, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars for each and every such Chinese laborer so brought, and may be also imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year.

    SEC. 3. That the two foregoing sections shall not apply to Chinese laborers who were in the United States on the seventeenth day of November, eighteen hundred and eighty, or who shall have come into the same before the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and who shall produce to such master before going on board such Vessel, and shall produce to the collector of the port in the United States at which such vessel shall arrive, the evidence hereinafter in this act required of his being one of the laborers in this section mentioned; nor shall the two foregoing sections apply to the case of any master whose vessel, being bound to a port not within the United States, shall come within the jurisdiction of the United States by reason of being in distress or in stress of weather, or touching at any port of the United States on its voyage to any foreign port or place: Provided, That all Chinese laborers brought on such vessel shall depart with the vessel on leaving port.

    SEC. 4. That for the purpose of properly indentifying Chinese laborers who were in the United States on the seventeenth day of November, eighteen hundred and eighty, or who shall have come into the same before the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and in order to furnish them with the proper evidence of their right to go from and come to the United States of their free will and accord, as provided by the treaty between the United States and China dated November seventeenth, eighteen hundred and eighty, the collector of customs of the district from which any such Chinese laborer shall depart from the United States shall, in person or by deputy, go on board each vessel having on board any such Chinese laborer and cleared or about to sail from his district for a foreign port, and on such vessel make a list of all such Chinese laborers, which shall be entered in registry-books to be kept for that purpose, in which shall be stated the name, age, occupation, last place of residence, physical marks or peculiarities, and all facts necessary for the indentification of each of such Chinese laborers, which books shall be safely kept in the custom-house; and every such Chinese laborer so departing from the United States shall be entitled to, and shall receive, free of any charge or cost upon application therefor, from the collector or his deputy, at the time such list is taken, a certificate, signed by the collector or his deputy and attested by his seal of office, in such form as the Secretary of the Treasury shall prescribe, which certificate shall contain a statement of the name, age, occupation, last place of residence, personal description, and fact of identification of the Chinese laborer to whom the certificate is issued, corresponding with the said list and registry in all particulars. In case any Chinese laborer after having received such certificate shall leave such vessel before her departure he shall deliver his certificate to the master of the vessel, and if such Chinese laborer shall fail to return to such vessel before her departure from port the certificate shall be delivered by the master to the collector of customs for cancellation. The certificate herein provided for shall entitle the Chinese laborer to whom the same is issued to return to and re-enter the United States upon producing and delivering the same to the collector of customs of the district at which such Chinese laborer shall seek to re-enter; and upon delivery of such certificate by such Chinese laborer to the collector of customs at the time of re-entry in the United States, said collector shall cause the same to be filed in the custom house and duly canceled.

    SEC. 12. That no Chinese person shall be permitted to enter the United States by land without producing to the proper officer of customs the certificate in this act required of Chinese persons seeking to land from a vessel. And any Chinese person found unlawfully within the United States shall be caused to be removed therefrom to the country from whence he came, by direction of the United States, after being brought before some justice, judge, or commissioner of a court of the United States and found to be one not lawfully entitled to be or remain in the United States.

    SEC. 14. That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed.

    Sec. 15. That the words " Chinese laborers ", wherever used in this act shall be construed to mean both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining.

  14. The Scott Act, October 1, 1888. Introduced by Representative William Scott of Pennsylvania, chair of the Democratic National Campaign Committee. It permanently banned the immigration or return of Chinese laborers to the United States and ended the certification (exit visa) process. About 20,000 Chinese had left the U.S. temporarily for China and were refused reentry (including about 600 who were already traveling to America when the legislation was enacted). The Supreme Court upheld the Scott Act. The Chinese government, however, refused to recognize its legitimacy.(TCL)

  15. Chinese Exclusion Act extension May 5,1892; an act to prohibit the coming of Chinese persons into the United States
    All laws now in force prohibiting and regulating the coming into this country of Chinese persons and persons of Chinese descent are hereby continued in force for a period of ten years from the passage of this act.(TCL)

  16. Chinese Exclusion Act amended December 8, 1894
    That the Secretary of the Treasury is hereby authorized and empowered to make and prescribe, and from time to time to change, such rules and regulations not inconsistent with the laws of the land as he may deem necessary and proper to execute the provisions of this Act and of the Acts hereby extended and continued and of the treaty. . .. between the United States and China, and with the approval of the President to appoint such agents as he may deem necessary for the efficient execution of said treaty and said Acts.(TCL)

  17. Chinese Exclusion Extension Act April 27, 1904.
    By this act, Congress indefinitely extended the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The act provides "all laws in force on the twenty-ninth day of April, nineteen hundred and two, regulating, suspending, or prohibiting the coming of Chinese persons or persons of Chinese descent into the United States, and the residence of such persons therein, including sections five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten eleven, thirteen, and fourteen of the Act entitled 'An Act to prohibit the coming of Chinese laborers into the United States,' approved September thirteen, eighteen hundred and eighty-eight, be, and the same are hereby, reenacted, extended, and continued, without modification, limitation, or condition. . ." (TCL)

  18. Immigration Act of 1917. The following classes of aliens shall be excluded from admission into the United States: (TCL)

    The Johnson Act, May 19, 1921. the first quota act. It limits entrants from each nation to 3 percent of that nationality's presence in the U.S. population as recorded by the 1910 census. (TCL)

  19. The Cable Act, September 22, 1922. It specifies that any U.S.-born woman marrying a "person ineligible for citizenship" would automatically lose her U.S. citizenship. In a marriage terminated by divorce or death, a Caucasian woman could regain her citizenship, but a Nisei woman could not, because she was "of a race ineligible for citizenship." In 1931, Congress amends the Cable Act to allow American women to retain their citizenship after marrying aliens ineligible for U.S. citizenship.(TCL)

  20. National Origins Act (Johnson-Reed Act).of May 26, 1924 (43 Statutes-at-Large 153).
    The law severely restricts immigration by establishing a system of national quotas that blatantly discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and virtually excluded Asians. The law shapes American immigration policy until the 1960s. (TCL)

  21. The National Origins Formula of 1929. Total annual immigration was capped at 150,000. Asians were excluded but residents of nations in the Americas were not restricted.(TCL)

  22. An act to admit to the United States wives of certain American citizens June 13, 1930 [Chinese wives of certain American citizens admitted]
    Subdivision (c) of section 13 of the Immigration Act of 1924, approved May 26, 1924, amended, is amending . . . by inserting after "section 3" the following: "or (4) is the Chinese wife of an American citizen who was married prior to the approval of the Immigration Act of 1924, approved May 26, 1924." [46 Stat. 581](TCL)

  23. An act to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Acts, to establish quotas, and for other purposes December 17, 1943
    The following Acts or parts of Acts relating to exclusion or deportation of persons of the Chinese race are hereby repealed: (TCL)

  24. The War Brides' Act, December 28, 1945. (59 Statutes-at-Large 659). It permits soldiers to bring back their foreign wives.(TCL)

  25. An act to place Chinese wives of American citizens on a nonquota basis July 2, 1946
    Subsection (c) of section 13 of the Immigration Act of 1924 approved May 26, 1924, as amended by the Act of June 13, 1930 [noted above], is amended . . . by striking our theres tof the subsection, which reads, "or (4) is the Chinese wife of an American citizen who was married prior to the approval of the Immigration Act of 1924, approved May 26, 1924." Sec. 2. . . . is amended to read as follows: "With the exception of Chinese alien wives of American citizens and those Chinese aliens coming under subsections (b), (d), (e), and (f) of section 4, Immigration Act of 1924 (43 Stat.155; 44 Stat. 812; 45 Stat. 1009; 46 Stat. 854; 47 Stat. 668; U.S.C. 204), all Chinese persons entering the United States annuyally as immigrants shall be allocated to the quota for the Chinese cfomputer under the provisions of section 11 of the said Act." [60 Stat. 416](TCL)

  26. McCarran-Walter Immigration Act of June 30, 1952.
    Also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act, tightening controls over aliens and immigrants. The act replaced the National Origins Act of 1924 and modified the 1929 quota formula by allowing a limited number of Asians to enter the United States. The law ended the blanket exclusion of immigrants based on race and created the foundation for current immigration law, but imposed a racialized immigration quota system and new ideological grounds for exclusion.(TCL)

  27. Refugee Relief Act of 1953.
    For the relief of certain refugees, and orphans, and for other purposes. .
    The law expired on December 31, 1956. (TCL)

  28. Refugee-Escapee Act, September 11, 1957. It provides for the admission of certain aliens who were eligible under the terms of the Refugee Relief Act, as well as refugee-escapees, defined as persons fleeing persecution in Communist countries or countries in the Middle East. This was the basis for the definition of refugee incorporated in the INA from 1965 until 1980. A total of 29,000 entered under the temporary 1957 refugee provisions, led by Hungarians, Koreans, Yugoslavs, and Chinese. (TCL)

  29. Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965.
    Under the Act, 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere are granted residency, with no more than 20,000 per country. One hundred twenty thousand immigrants from the Western Hemisphere, with no "national limitations," are also to be admitted. The significance of this bill was that future immigrants were to be welcomed because of their skills/professions, and not for their countries of origin. Movement was to rid America of racial/ethnic discrimination. Two other bills, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Johnson signed for the same reason.(TCL)

  30. Immigration Reform Law of 1986

  31. Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992
    The Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992 (CSPA) was a bill sponsored by Nancy Pelosi which granted permanent residency to all nationals of the People's Republic of China arriving in the United States on or before April 11, 1990. It made permanent a temporary ban on deporting Chinese national in the US that had been created by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, Executive Order 12711. The stated purpose of the CSPA was to prevent political persecution of Chinese students in the aftermath of the Tiananmen protests of 1989. One provision of the act was that a permanent residency status granted to a Chinese national under the act would subtract from the immigration spaces available in later years.

    Though targeted at students with expiring visas, the CSPA covered even Chinese nationals that had entered illegally. The main source of illegal aliens from China at the time was smuggling gangs.

    Provided for adjustment to permanent resident status (as employment-based immigrants) by nationals of the People's Republic of China who were in the United States after June 4, 1989 and before April 11, 1990.

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