Transcript: Remarks by Rep. Judy Chu on H.R. 683 expressing regret for Chinese exclusion laws

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of House floor remarks by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) on H.R. 683 “Expressing the regret of the House of Representatives for the passage of laws that adversely affected the Chinese in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act” on June 18, 2012:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise and support House Resolution 683.

“First, I want to thank Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and subcommittee Chair Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) of the Judiciary Committee for all their work on this resolution. I appreciate it so much.

“We have come together across party lines to show that no matter what side of the aisle we sit on, Congress can make amends for the past, no matter how long ago those violations occurred.

“It is because we have worked together in a bipartisan way that we will make history today.

“Today, for the first time in 130 years, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that expresses regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, one of the most discriminatory acts in American history.

“Over a century ago, the Chinese came here in search of a better life. During the California Gold Rush, the Chinese came to the United States to make something of themselves. Their blood, sweat, and tears built the first transcontinental railroad connecting the people of our nation. They opened our mines, constructed the levees, and became the backbone of farm production. Their efforts helped build America.

“But as the economy soured in the 1870s, the Chinese became scapegoats. They were called racial slurs, were spat upon in the streets, and even brutally murdered. The harsh conditions they faced were evident in the halls of Congress.

“By the time 1882 came around, members of Congress were competing with each other to get the most discriminatory law passed and routinely made speeches on the House floor against the so-called ‘Mongolian horde.’

“Rep. Albert Shelby Willis from Kentucky fought particularly hard for the Chinese Exclusion Act. In his floor speech, he said, ‘The Chinese were an invading race.’ He called them ‘aliens with sordid and un-republican habits.’ He declared that the Pacific states have been ‘cursed with the evils of Chinese immigration’ and that they ‘disturbed the peace and order of society.’

“The official House committee report accompanying the bill claimed that the Chinese – and I quote – ‘retained their distinctive peculiarities and characteristics, refusing to assimilate themselves to our institutions, and remaining a separate and distinct class entrenched behind immovable prejudices. That their ignorance or disregard for sanitary laws as evidenced in their habits of life breeds disease, pestilence and death.’

“And so on April 17, 1882, under a simple suspension of the rules, the House passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It prevented them from becoming naturalized citizens. It prevented them from ever having the right to vote. And it prevented the Chinese – and the Chinese alone – from immigrating.

“But this was only the beginning. As the years passed, the House built upon this act increasing the discriminatory restrictions on the Chinese.

“Two years later, the House made clear that any ethnically Chinese laborer – even if they weren’t from China but from somewhere like Hong Kong or the Philippines – were banned from U.S. shores.

“Four years later, the House passed the Scott Act. This bill prohibited all Chinese laborers from re-entering the United States if they ever left, even if they were legal residents in the U.S. and even if they had the certificates of return that should have guaranteed their right of return. This prevented approximately 20,000 legal U.S. residents who had gone abroad, including 600 on ships literally en route back to the United States, from returning to their families or their homes. With little floor debate, the Scott Act passed the House unanimously.

“In 1892 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was set to expire, the House extended it for another decade but it increased restrictions further.

“It made the Chinese the only residents who could not receive bail after applying for a writ of habeas corpus – that is, to protest an unjust imprisonment.

“It made them the only people in America who have to carry papers or ‘certificates of residence’ with them at all times. If they couldn’t produce the proper documents, authorities threw them into prison or out of the country regardless of whether they were U.S. citizens or not. Legally, the only means by which this could be stopped is if a white person testified on their behalf.

“In 1898, the U.S. annexed Hawaii and the Philippines, making them U.S. territories. And while other residents of the territories could come and go between their home and the U.S., who did the House make sure to exclude? Only the Chinese.

“Then in 1904, the House made the Chinese Exclusion Act permanent. This act lasted for 60 long years.

“It was not until 1943 that this law was repealed, but it was only because of World War II when the United States needed to maintain a critical military alliance with China. U.S. enemies were pointing to the Chinese Exclusion Act as proof that the U.S. was anti-Chinese and the U.S. had to erase that perception.

“However, Congress made no formal acknowledgement that these laws were wrong. The Chinese Exclusion Act as the first and only federal law in our history that excluded a single group of people from immigration on no basis other than their race.

“And the effects of this act produced deep scars on the Chinese-American community. Families were split apart permanently. Without the ability to naturalize as citizens and to vote, the community was disenfranchised.

“Because immigration had been so severely restricted, few women could come and the ratio of males to females was as high as 20 to 1. Many Chinese-American males could not have families and were forced to die completely alone. If they tried to get married, they were forced to go abroad and families were separated.

“The family of Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland, had been here legally since 1880. Her father went abroad to marry a woman in China in 1920 but had to leave her behind along with their children. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed over 25 years later, his wife was finally able to come and have Jean in the United States. But the siblings did not know each other for decades.

“The Chinese, like my grandfather, did not have the legal right to become naturalized citizens. He had been here legally since 1904 but unlike non-Chinese immigrants, he was forced to register and carry a certificate of residence at all times for almost 40 years or else be deported. He could only be saved if a white person vouched for him.

“These laws are why we ask for this expression of regret. Last October, the U.S. Senate did its part to right history by passing their own resolution of regret for these hateful laws. It did so unanimously with bipartisan support.

“And today, the House should also issue its expression of regret. It is for my grandfather and for all Chinese-Americans who were told for six decades by the U.S. government that the land of the free wasn’t open to them that we must pass this resolution. We must finally and formally acknowledge these ugly laws that were incompatible with America’s founding principles. We must express the sincere regret that Chinese-Americans deserve.

“By doing so, we will acknowledge that discrimination has no place in our society and we will reaffirm our strong commitment to preserving the civil rights and constitutional protections for all people of every color, every race, and from every background…

“Today is historic. This is a very significant day in the Chinese-American community. It is an expression that discrimination has no place in our society and that the promise of equality is available to all.

“This is only the fourth such apology in the last 25 years. In 1988, President [Ronald] Reagan signed the bill apologizing for the Japanese-American internment during World War II. In 1993, Congress apologized to Hawaiians for the U.S.-led overthrow of their monarchy. In 2008, the House issued an apology to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.

“This bill was a huge undertaking requiring the efforts of Chinese-Americans and their supporters all across the nation. Without the dedication of countless community organizations and grassroots advocates from across the country, none of this would have happened. I thank them, and I thank all the Congress members from both sides of the aisle, including the 50 co-sponsors of the bill, and especially Chairman Lamar Smith, for their support of the bill.”

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