U.S. Senate Apologizes for Discriminating Against Chinese Immigrants

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October 7, 2011; Source: Silicon Valley Mercury News | America, no doubt, is a nation of immigrants; but it has not always been welcoming to people who seek a better life in this “land of opportunity.”

In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act into law. The first exclusionary U.S. immigration law made it impossible for Chinese migrants to enter the country and for those already in the United States, life insufferable.

Chinese immigrants had been lured to the West Coast in the 19th century by economic opportunities such as the Gold Rush then the Transcontinental Railroad.  High unemployment and declining wages, however, led to the scapegoating of the Chinese community and the enactment of a series of policies, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which targeted and marginalized one particular ethnic community.

The U.S. Senate, pressed by the Organization of Chinese Americans and other civil rights advocacy groups, has now apologized to the Chinese American community, well over a century later. The bipartisan resolution also expresses regrets for the draconian immigration law and the racial violence that erupted in San Francisco and cities around the country during that time. The bill acknowledges the persecution and detention of Chinese immigrants at the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Sen. Scott Brown, one of the bill’s sponsors, wrote, “This resolution cannot undo the hurt caused by past discrimination against Chinese immigrants, but it is important that we acknowledge the wrongs that were committed many years ago.”

“It’s a welcome step forward that really highlights how our country is able to acknowledge a moral obligation to living up to our ideals,” said Eddie Wong, director of the nonprofit Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. “This whole idea of expressing regret, and acknowledging it was a wrongful act of racial discrimination, is an important thing.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a co-sponsor, wrote, “I hope this resolution will serve to enlighten those who may not be aware of this regrettable chapter in our history.”

This can also draw a cautionary tale as state immigration laws are passed which disproportionately affects the lives of Latinos, immigrants and native-born alike. Although state immigration laws are being enacted out of federal inaction on immigration, these policies, like the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, marginalize one racial group, this time Latinos.

Will we apologize to another immigrant group yet again? –Erwin de Leon