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Immigration Archives - Chinese Immigration Laws and Treaties

As early as 1862 the Pacific coast States and cities attempted to restrict Chinese immigration, but their regulations were declared unconstitutional. Recourse was then had to the Federal Government.

The first treaty in which emigration from China to the United States was considered was the Burlingame treaty, proclaimed July 28, 1868. Sections 5 and 6 of that treaty state the position of the United States respecting the rights of Chinese in this country.

The inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects, respectively, from the one country to the other, for the purpose of curiosity or trade, or as permanent residents, were recognized, but "any other than an entirely voluntary emigration" was reprobated. The attitude of the United States as exprest in this treaty was not popular in the Pacific States, however, and these States continued their efforts to secure legislation restricting the further immigration of the Chinese.

In 1872 the legislature of California had instructed their Representatives in Congress to urge the making of a new treaty with China providing for the exclusion of certain Chinese subjects, and continued agitation finally resulted in the enactment of the law of March 3, 1875.

Besides prohibiting the importation of women, especially Chinese women, for the purpose of prostitution, and the immigration of convicts, the principal provision of the act of 1875 was that the transporting into the United States of residents of China, Japan, or any oriental country, without their free and voluntary consent, for the purpose of holding them to a term of service, was to be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year and by a fine not exceeding $2,000. It further provided that any person attempting to contract in this manner to supply coolie labor to another should be guilty of a felony and imprisoned for not more than one year and pay a fine of not more than $5,000.

On November 17, 1880, a treaty somewhat more satisfactory to the Pacific coast was negotiated, the article relating to the limitation and suspension of Chinese immigration into the United States being as follows:

Whenever in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States, or their residence therein, affects or threatens to affect the interests of that country, or to endanger the good order of said country, or of any locality within the territory thereof, the Government of China agrees that the Government of the United States may regulate, limit or suspend such coming or residence, but may not absolutely prohibit it. The limitation of suspension shall be reasonable, and shall apply only to Chinese who may go to the United States as laborers, other classes not being included in the limitations.

Legislation taken in regard to Chinese laborers will be of such a character only as is necessary to enforce the regulation, limitation, or suspension of immigration, and immigrants shall not be subject to personal maltreatment or abuse. After the treaty of 1880 was concluded, a bill to execute certain stipulations contained therein was passed by the Senate and House. As this bill went to the President for approval it provided that within ninety days after its passage, and until twenty years thereafter, the coming of Chinese laborers should be suspended.

Exception was made to Chinese laborers who were in the United States on November 17, 1880, and those who should come before the act went into effect. Also a complete system of registration, certification and identification was provided. Skilled Chinese laborers were specificalIy among those excluded, and all State or United States courts were denied the right to admit Chinese to citizenship.

On April 4, 1882, President Arthur returned the bill with his veto, his principal reason for refusing to sign it being that the passage of an act prohibiting immigration for twenty years was an unreasonable suspension of immigration, and consequently a breach of the treaty. The features relating to registration he also claimed served no good purpose. Subsequently, a modified bill was passed by Congress, and, altho containing some of the provisions objectionable to the President, he approved it on May 6, 1882. This law provided that all immigration of Chinese laborers, skilled or unskiIIed, should be suspended for a period
of ten years.

During the next Congress to prevent evasions of the law through the "possible interpretations of words 'merchants' and 'travelers,' together with the notorious capabilities of the lower classes of Chinese for perjury," the certificates of the exempt classes were made more elaborate and the word "merchant" was defined to exclude hucksters, peddlers, and fishermen.

The certificates were made the only evidence admissible to establish a right to reenter. These certificates also had to be verified by the United States diplomatic officer at the port of departure. This act was approved by the President.

In 1886, China of her own accord proposed to prohibit the emigration of her laborers to the United States, and also to prohibit the return of any laborers who had gone back to China. She asked that negotiations be entered into for a treaty embodying such provisions. Such a treaty was agreed to and signed by the representatives of the two countries on March 12, 1888.

The treaty as signed provided that Chinese laborers should be excluded for twenty years. No Chinese laborer returning to China was to be allowed to reenter the United States unless he left a wife, child, or parent, or property to the value of $1,000. To avail himself of this right he had to return within a year.

Chinese subjects other than laborers had to obtain certificates of identification from consular representatives of the United States at ports of departure.

As in the earlier treaty, the Chinese lawfully residing here were granted all the privileges of
citizens of the most-favored nations. Finally the indemnity fund of $276,619.75, which was asked for losses and injuries suffered by the Chinese in various anti-Chinese riots in the Pacific coast States was included.

Before ratifying it the Senate changed two articles of the treaty. By the first, all Chinese laborers not then in the United States, but who held return certificates under existing laws, were not to be allowed to enter. The other required the possession of the certificate of identification to insure entry.

No ratification of the treaty followed, however, and on receipt of unofficial reports that China had rejected it, Congress passed a bill prohibiting the coming to the United States of Chinese laborers. President Clevelan<l withheld his approval of the bill for some time, but finally, on the refusal of China to ratify the treaty unless the term of years was made shorter, and other conditions were changed, on October I, 1888, he signed it. In his message accompanying the approval President Cleveland justified his action, claiming that China's delay was a breach of the existing treaty, and such a breach as justified Congress in legislatively dealing with the matter.

On December 10, 1891, Senator Dolph, of Oregon, secured the passage of a bill providing that the act of May 6, 1882, should be continued in force for another ten years. By its terms, all existing laws were continued in force for ten years. All Chinese laborers within the United States were required to secure certificates within one year, and if any was found without such certificate he was to be liable to deportation.

Shortly after the passage of these acts China asked for the opening of negotiations looking to a new treaty. Negotiations were successful, and on December 8, 1894, a treaty was proclaimed. This provided for the exclusion of all Chinese laborers for a term of ten years.

Those going back to China were allowed to return here, providing they had a wife, child, or parent, or property worth $1,000 somewhere in the United States. Registration was still required.

It practically covered the same grounds as existing legislation, except that the act of October I, 1888, refusing to Chinese laborers the right to return, was repealed.

After the annexation of Hawaii on July 7, 18gB, Chinese immigration to these islands was declared to be regulated by the laws of the United States. On April 30, 1900, provision was made· for the registering of all the Chinese in these islands, and Chinese living there were forbidden to enter the United States.

Jeremiah W. Jenks, Ph.D., LL.D. and W. Jett Lauck, A.B., "Chinese Immigration Laws and Treaties" In The Immigration Problem, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1912, P. 314-319.

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