Historic: Congress OKs Resolution Regretting Chinese Exclusion Act
Washington, D.C.—Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-32) said, “Today, the House made history when both chambers of Congress officially and formally acknowledged the ugly and un-American nature of laws that targeted Chinese immigrants.”
Congresswoman Chu, author of House Resolution 683, made the statement on June 18, when the House of Representatives passed the resolution, by unanimous consent, expressing regret over the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Her original co-sponsor is Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith.
Senate Resolution 201, a companion resolution, passed on October 7 last year. With H.R. 683, the 112th U.S. Congress put a closure “on this chapter of injustice,” said 1882 Project Chair Michael Lin. This is only the fourth time that Congress has passed such a resolution of regret in the last 25 years.
“This is a great day not just for Chinese Americans, but indeed, for all Americans. The suffering and wounds caused by the Chinese Exclusion Acts can start to heal,” said Haipei Shue, President of the National Council of Chinese Americans, a member of the 1882 Project, the lead advocacy coalition on this issue.
Remarked Congresswoman Chu, the first female Chinese American elected to Congress: “The Chinese Exclusion Act enshrined injustice into our legal code—it stopped the Chinese, and the Chinese alone, from immigrating to the United States, from ever becoming naturalized citizens and ever having the right to vote.” Congresswoman Chu is also the Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
The Asian American community expressed elation over the news, along with the resolve, led by the 1882 Project, to prevent “this kind of injustice from ever happening again.” The passage of the resolution also reaffirmed “America’s commitment to freedom and equality,” Congressman Brad Sherman (CA-27) stressed.
The resolution formally expresses the regret of the House of Representatives for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other laws that discriminated against people of Chinese origin in the U.S. For the full text of the resolution, visit www.govtrack.us/ congress/bills/112/hres683/text.
The 1882 law prevented Chinese citizens from becoming naturalized American citizens, voting, or immigrating to the U.S. It lasted for 60 years until 1943. The laws were repealed in 1943, the 1882 Project noted, “in order to strengthen America’s military strategic position in World War II,” but there was no acknowledgment of the injustice.
The 1882 law was the first and only federal law in U.S. history that excluded a single group of people from immigration on no basis other than their race, splitting apart families permanently.
The Committee of 100, a member of 1882 Project, said, “At a time when the Statue of Liberty seemed to welcome the tired and poor with open arms, the Chinese, and the Chinese alone, were turned away. Moreover, tens of thousands of law-abiding immigrants already in the United States, who had worked for decades to help build this nation’s railroads, farm its fields and fish its waters, were barred from becoming U.S. citizens. That status then barred them from the ownership of land, access to public education and voting – all denials of ‘equal protection’ under our nation’s laws.”
The Committee of 100 is a leadership organization of prominent Chinese Americans in business, government, academia and the arts.
“The last generation of people personally affected by these laws is leaving us, and finally Congress has expressed the sincere regret that Chinese Americans deserve and reaffirmed our commitment to the civil rights of all people,” Congresswoman Chu said on June 18. “This is only the fourth time that Congress has passed such a resolution of regret in the last 25 years. This makes today a rare moment in history for the Chinese American Community.”
Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15), CAPAC Immigration Taskforce Chair pointed out: “Acknowledging and addressing these injustices throughout our nation’s history not only strengthens civil rights and civil liberties, but doing so likewise brings us closer to a more perfect union.”
Congressman Howard Berman (CA-28), Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed, “Our nation was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all.”
The resolution was first introduced as H. R. 282 in May 2011 by Congresswoman Chu with her original co-sponsors, Representatives Judy Biggert (R-IL), Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The primary sponsors in the Senate were Senators Scott Brown (R-MA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
Author Larry Hajime Shinagawa said, “Congresswoman Chu’s legislation is historic, marking the first time that the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledges the far-reaching injustice of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.”
Remarked 1882 Project Chair Lin: “This historic moment finally put a closure of this chapter of injustice toward Americans of Chinese and Asian descent behind us. Congratulations to all!”
“We salute Congresswoman Judy Chu for mission accomplished! H. R. 683 just passed in the House. Democracy does work,” he stressed. “With this momentum, we need to ensure the awareness of the public and the future generations, so that we understand the history and learn the lessons to prevent this kind of injustice from ever happening again.”
The 1882 Project was initiated two years ago to seek Congressional action to address the Chinese Exclusion Laws. It also aims to promote public awareness and education about the history and continued significance of the laws. For more information on the 1882 Project, please visit www.1882project.org.
The 1882 Project is guided by a Steering Committee, composed of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, Committee of 100, Japanese American Citizens League, National Council of Chinese Americans and OCA, with pro bono support from Covington and Burling LLP.
Lin and Ted Gong of the 1882 Project led the final push for the resolution, calling on the Asian American community to contact their legislators. On the day of the House approval, Gong said, “One more push and we can get this done in the House, and build momentum for continuing and broaden education and public awareness of the Chinese Exclusion Laws.”
1882 Project Chair Lin also acknowledged “the tremendous efforts of many individuals and community organizations throughout the nation.”
He said a partial list of supporting national organizations included the American Jewish Committee, Asian American Federation, Asian American Institute, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Law Caucus, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Association for Asian American Studies, Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association, East Coast Asian American Student Union and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
Members of CAPAC released statements following the historic vote. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (CA-08), Democratic Leader: “To have moral authority around the world, we must speak out against prejudice at home – and thanks to the leadership of Congresswoman Chu and CAPAC Members, Congress has rightfully expressed regret for the far-reaching injustices of the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion laws. Representing San Francisco, I know that diversity is a strength of our nation’s history. Though this legislation cannot erase the deeds of the past, it reiterates our commitment to equal rights for all Americans, regardless of race, now and in the future.”
Congressman Honda: “As Chair Emeritus and an American, I am a proud co-sponsor to H. Res. 683, which expresses the regret of the House of Representatives for the shameful passage of anti-Chinese laws.
“A century and a half ago, Chinese were used as cheap labor to do the most dangerous work laying the tracks of our transcontinental railroad to strengthening our nation’s infrastructure, only to be persecuted when their labor was seen as competition and when the dirtiest work was done.
“The passage of anti-Chinese laws illustrates the xenophobic hysteria of this country’s shameful chapter of exclusion. We must not vilify entire groups of people because it is politically expedient. The great thing about humanity is that we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Acknowledging and addressing these injustices throughout our nation’s history not only strengthens civil rights and civil liberties, but doing so brings us closer to a more perfect union.”
Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), CAPAC Civil Rights Taskforce Chair: “I am pleased that the House of Representatives passed this resolution, which formally regrets unfortunate acts of Congress in relation to those of Chinese descent. We still have a long way to go, but expressing our regret is a step in the right direction of righting past wrongdoing.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA- 09), CAPAC Healthcare Taskforce Chair: “I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of H.R. 683, which expresses regret for passage of legislation that sadly targeted people of Chinese origin in the United States because of their ethnicity, and made discrimination an official policy of our federal government. At the same time that Chinese immigrants were coming to America in search of opportunity and to California in search of gold, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Chinese Exclusion Laws intended to derail the success of the Chinese with discrimination and exclusion.
“It is my hope that by acknowledging these dark days, we can move forward together to bring human rights to all, embrace our proud history as a nation of immigrants, and learn to value the heritage and contributions of all cultures.”
Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (HI-02), CAPAC Education Taskforce Chair: “The gross injustices – stemming from passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the outright discriminatory laws that followed – marked a dark time in our nation’s complex history. These laws attacked the basic human dignity of a proud community. Hawaii’s Chinese community was specifically barred from the U.S. mainland just because of their ethnicity. But our country’s greatness comes in part from our willingness to admit past wrongs and learn from them. Let’s move forward by recognizing the important contributions of Chinese Americans, and let’s use today’s vote as a reminder to fight discrimination in all its forms.”
Congressman Howard Berman (CA- 28), Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee: “Our nation was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all, but for far too long, members of the Chinese community in the United States were denied their fundamental rights. Bigotry has no place in our society, and certainly not in our laws. We can never adequately right the wrongs directed at Chinese Americans who have always made our communities more prosperous and vibrant, especially in California, but we must acknowledge past misdeeds and never repeat them.”
Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (AS): “Like their counterparts from European countries, Chinese immigrants in the 19th century came to the United States in search of opportunities for a better life.
“The Chinese Exclusion Act, however, was an outright discriminatory policy against Chinese immigrants, unjustly cutting them off from the promise of the American dream that they came to find. The Chinese Exclusion Act split apart families and derailed the lives of many hopeful Americans all on the basis of their ethnicity.
“While our nation has come a long way since this legislation was enacted 130 years ago, let us continually be reminded in our diverse country to stand against these types of injustices and to uphold the founding principle of our nation – that all men are created equal.”
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34): “The passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, marks a dark spot in the history of our Congress and country. It is my hope that this resolution expressing the regret of the House of Representatives will serve as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for basic civil and human rights in our nation and abroad.”
Congressman Adam Schiff (CA-29): “IIt is shameful and regretful that our country once had laws that singled out one ethnic group and prevented them from seeking new opportunities and a better life.”
Congressman Brad Sherman (CA-27): “The letter and spirit of anti-Asian legislation in the U.S., including the Chinese Exclusion Act, were incompatible with the basic principles of humanity recognized by our forefathers and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. With the passage of this resolution, we reaffirm America’s commitment to freedom and equality.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA- 12): “The Chinese Exclusion Act and efforts to bar Chinese immigrants from entering and thriving in the U.S. have been dark stains on America’s history… My district in the Bay Area is deeply enriched by the contributions of our large Chinese American population that first settled here centuries ago. In fact, Burlingame was named for land owner Anson Burlingame, who was the U.S. Minister to China who first established friendly relations between our two countries in the late 19th century. Expressing regret for the Exclusion Act would pay our community the respect and appreciation it has long deserved.”
Founded in 1994, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is comprised of Members of Congress of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, as well as Members who have a strong dedication to promoting the wellbeing of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Other leaders of the 1882 Project also lauded the historic day. Haipei Shue, President of the National Council of Chinese Americans: “National Council of Chinese Americans applauds the House of Representatives for taking moral responsibility for past discriminatory legislation against Chinese in America. This is a great day not just for Chinese Americans, but indeed, for all Americans. The suffering and wounds caused by the Chinese Exclusion Acts can start to heal. We will continue to educate this and future generations to fight for the realization of the full promise of this great nation.”
Carolyn Chan, Grand President of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance: “We applaud Congress for passing H. Res. 683 and S. Res. 201, affirming our faith in a system that can admit and correct its mistakes. Passionate advocates, including the many empowering organizations comprising this bold effort, must renew our resolve to vigilantly teach the lessons learned from history. A better America results from protection of civil rights and laws applied equally to all.” Frank Wu, Vice Chair of the Committee of 100: “Committee of 100 thanks everyone who helped ensure that Chinese Americans are able to participate fully in the democratic process. Committee of 100 appreciates especially the broad coalition of individuals and community groups that made this landmark legislation possible.”
Priscilla Ouchida, National JACL Executive Director: “The Japanese American Citizens League applauds Congress for its historic acknowledgment of racially discriminatory laws that created unprecedented restrictions on the rights of Chinese and Asian immigrants. Today, they are remembered for their heroic contributions to the nation. The adoption of House Resolution 683 helps to erase the stigma that was unfairly imposed on these great Americans.”
OCA National President Ken Lee: “We are extremely pleased with Congress’ commitment to ensuring equality for all. The extraordinary work of the 1882 Project, along with strong Congressional leadership, has brought us to this historic moment that we should all be proud of.”
OCA Executive Director Tom Hayashi: “OCA is humbled and gratified by this momentous achievement as a community. The passage of the resolutions in both houses poignantly echoes the very virtues that this great country aspires to live up to.
“We are particularly proud of our organizational colleagues and the countless individuals who are our true advocates. These activists all across the country mobilized passionately to the call. They acted based on the ardent belief that our history deserves the light of day in measure that properly marks the wrongs of the past but more importantly, upholds the promise of justice and equality for current and future generations.”
Martin Gold, pro bono Counsel of the 1882 Project, Partner, Covington and Burling LLP: “We at Covington & Burling are tremendously gratified that House of Representatives has recognized the history of the Chinese exclusion laws and expressed regret for such discriminatory legislation.
“The adoption of H. R. 683 is an historic moment of which we are proud and honored to be a part. We are especially thankful for the leadership of Representatives Judy Chu and Judy Biggert, Chairman Lamar Smith and their staffs, whose commitment to bringing this history to light has been unflagging, and to the community organizations and members whose tireless advocacy garnered the crucial grassroots support that propelled the resolution’s passage.”