What Was the Chinese Exclusion Act?

The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 and was used to restrict Chinese immigration to the United States. It was the first act that reduced immigration to the country on a large scale solely on the basis of nationality or race.

The roots of the Chinese Exclusion Act were in the California Gold Rush of 1849 and the creation of the transcontinental railroad from 1864 to 1869, both of which drew many Chinese laborers and their families to the country. The act was a response to sentiment among native-born American citizens that the Chinese immigrants were taking their jobs and suppressing wages. Some political parties of the time, such as the Workingman's Party, actively drummed up this sentiment for political gain.

The situation reached a head with riots in California cities in the late 1870s, prompting Congress to pass the Exclusion Act in 1882. The Act barred all laborers and mining workers from China from entering the country for 10 years. Chinese immigrants who were not laborers by trade had to receive certification from the Chinese government. Chinese who were already settled in the United States could not return to the country if they left and were permanently excluded from citizenship.