WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on June 18 unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-El Monte), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), that formally expresses the regret of the House for passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other legislation that discriminated against people of Chinese origin in the United States.
Chu’s bill, H. Res 683, is only the fourth resolution of regret in the past 25 years to be passed by both houses of the U.S. Congress, following apologies to Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II, Native Hawaiians, whose monarchy was overthrown in 1893, and African Americans for suffering under slavery and Jim Crow.
The Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese citizens from becoming naturalized American citizens, voting, or immigrating to the U.S. It lasted for 60 years until 1943, scarring the Chinese American community for generations. This 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.
Chu’s legislation is historic, marking the first time that the House has acknowledged the far-reaching injustice of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and related laws that followed. In October 2011, the Senate passed similar bipartisan legislation unanimously.
“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,” said Chu. “The Chinese Exclusion Act enshrined injustice into our legal code – it stopped the Chinese, and the Chinese alone, from immigrating, from ever becoming naturalized citizens and ever having the right to vote.
“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. 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.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), CAPAC Immigration Task Force chair, stated, “As chair emeritus (of CAPAC) and an American, I am a proud co-sponsor to H. Res. 683 … 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 strengthen 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.”
Following are comments from other members of Congress.
Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), CAPAC Education Task Force 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.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), House 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.”
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), ranking member of 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.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks): “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.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), an original co-sponsor of H. Res 683: “It 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. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed 130 years ago, and it is time that we apologize for this unfair and unjust law.”
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles): “The passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States … 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.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo): “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. It has been 130 years since the repeal of the Exclusion Act, yet the United States has never officially expressed regret for its prejudicial actions; by passing this resolution we can finally close the ugly chapter in our timeline.
“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.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), CAPAC Healthcare Task Force chair and original co-sponsor of H.Res. 683: “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.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), CAPAC Civil Rights Task Force chair: “I am pleased that the House of Representatives passed this resolution … We still have a long way to go, but expressing our regret is a step in the right direction of righting past wrongdoing.”
Rep. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa): “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 … 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.”