Asian Exclusion Laws

Asian Exclusion Laws

There were a very large number of local,
state, and federal laws that were specifically aimed at disrupting the
flow of Chinese and Japanese immigrants to the United States. Two
of the major laws were the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1907-1908

Gentlemanís Agreement. Although the laws had some differences, they
were quite similar and had similar impacts on the immigrant population.

The 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese

Exclusion Act, which outlawed Chinese immigration. It also explicitly
denied naturalization rights to Chinese, meaning they were not allowed
to become citizens, as they were not free whites. Prior to the Chinese

Exclusion Act, some 300,000 laborers arrived in California, and the act
was intended to primarily prevent the entry of more laborers. The
passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first attempt by congress
to ban a group of immigrants based on race or color.

The only Chinese that legally entered the

United States during the six decades the Exclusion Act was in place were
those in "exempted classes" such as merchants, students, diplomats, and
travelers (Chan). An unknown number illegally entered through the

Canadian and Mexican borders and many others entered as "paper sons."

The act did not prevent Chinese immigration per se; it simply prevented
most legal immigration.

The 1907-1908 Gentlemanís Agreement was
the result of a conflict between the San Francisco school board and the

Asian (particularly Japanese) community related to school segregation.

President Roosevelt made an agreement with the Japanese government.

In exchange for the school boardís allowing Japanese students to attend
white schools in California, the Japanese government agreed to stop issuing
passports to laborers. (Chan)

Despite the enactment of the Gentlemanís

Agreement, some 120,000 Japanese arrived in California during the fifteen
years proceeding the agreement (Chan).

The two pieces of legislation were similar
in that they attempted to halt the immigration of laborers. It seemed
the United States government was sending a message that they wanted only
educated, professional immigrants from Asian countries, and there was no
longer a need for the laborers they once welcomed.

The Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentlemanís

Agreement were both blatant attempts by the United States to close the
door to Asian immigrants. While other pieces of legislation were
merely punitive to the immigrants already here, such as the Alien Land

Laws and the Foreign Minersí Tax, these clearly aimed to deny Asian immigrants
entry to the United States.

The Gentlemanís Agreement was less
restrictive than the Chinese Exclusion Act, as it allowed Japanese women
to enter the United States. From the beginning of the Japanese immigration
there was an understanding that women would be allowed to enter the U.S.,
and the Gentlemanís Agreement did not rescind that.

The Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentlemanís

Agreement were quite similar with similar impacts on the immigrant population,
although their names suggest otherwise. The Chinese Exclusion Act
sounds very harsh, while the Gentlemanís Agreement sounds more genteel.

Deceptive names aside, the two pieces of legislation were very much the
same.