Skip to Main Content

Book Displays: Equal Justice Initiative 2023: May

May's Topic - Anti-Asian Immigration Laws

Activists gather in New York City on April 4, 2021, to protest anti-Asian hate crimes

Calendar photo Caption: Activists gather in New York City on April 4, 2021, to protest anti-Asian hate crimes. (Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images)

Calendar Text

During the Gold Rush of 1849, people from China joined the flow of migrants to the West Coast. White Americans denounced Chinese immigrants as racially inferior and blamed them for white unemployment and depressed wages. Major newspapers published anti-Chinese ads, articles, and cartoons, and states restricted employment, education, and land ownership for Asian immigrants.

Beginning in 1875, Congress passed a series of racist immigrations laws to bar Chinese immigrants In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese immigrants for 10 years and prohibited them from becoming citizens. Soon after, racist violence in Wyoming and Idaho left Chinese immigrants dead, wounded, and fleeing their homes.

Congress extended and strengthened the act numerous times. In 1888, the Scott Act prohibited long-term legal residents of Chinese descent from returning if they left the U.S. In 1892, the Geary Act required Chinese residents to carry resident permits or face deportation or imprisonment at hard labor.

Racist immigration laws were extended to all people of Asian descent. In 1917, Congress prohibited immigration from the "Asiatic Barred Zone," In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge, remarking that "America must remain American," signed the Immigration Act of 1924, which barred all immigration from Asia, including Japan, and established an immigration quota system what would stand until 1965.

Anti-Asian racial bigotry remains prevalent today. Hate crimes targeting the Asian American community have surged in recent years, increasing by more that 300% in 2021.