World / US and Canada

US apologizes for Chinese Exclusion Act

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-06-19 14:22

WASHINGTON - US House of Representatives on Monday unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for discriminating laws targeting Chinese immigrants at the turn of the 20th century.

Congressional leaders hailed the approval of the resolution as a "historic" moment for the Chinese American community.

In a voice vote, the House passed H. Res. 683, a bipartisan resolution that formally expresses regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other legislation that discriminated against people of Chinese origin in the United States.

This is the fourth resolution of regret passed by both houses of the US Congress in the past 25 years. It was approved in the Senate last October.

"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 Congresswoman Judy Chu, the only member of Congress who is of Chinese descent and who introduced the bill. "I feel so gratified... and I feel honored to have been a part of this great moment in history."

The Chinese Exclusion Act, approved in 1882 in Congress and lasted for 60 years, was the first and the only federal law in US history that excluded a single group of people from immigration on no basis other than their race. It explicitly banned Chinese workers from immigration and existing residents from naturalization and voting.

The Act was later expanded several times to apply to all persons of Chinese descent, each time imposing increasingly severe restrictions on immigration and naturalization.

The resolution was applauded by Congressional leaders.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the resolution "reiterates our commitment to equal rights for all Americans, regardless of race, now and in the future."

Congressman Mike Honda, chair emeritus of Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said the passage of the resolution is an "opportunity to learn from our mistakes".

He added that "acknowledging and addressing these injustices throughout our nation's history not only strengthens civil rights and civil liberties, but doing so brings us closer."

More than 100,000 Chinese lived in the United States around the turn of the 19th century, according to Census figures.

Honda said many of them were recruited from China "to work as cheap labor to do the most dangerous work laying the tracks" on the transcontinental railroad.

They "strengthened our nation's infrastructure, only to be persecuted when their labor was seen as competition and the dirtiest work was done," Honda noted.

The resolution was also welcomed by the Chinese community.

Haipei Shue, president of the National Council of Chinese Americans, said the day was "a great day for Chinese Americans."

Chinese Americans will be able to "heal historical wounds that have been festering for over 100 years," and move forward after the apology, Shue said.

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