House passes resolution of ‘regret’ for the Chinese Exclusion Act


WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 683, a bipartisan resolution introduced by Rep. Judy Chu of California, on June 18. The resolution “formally expresses the regret of the House of Representatives for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other legislation that discriminated against people of Chinese origin in the United States,” according to a statement from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). The caucus said it is only the fourth such resolution that expresses regret in the past 25 years.

According to the CAPAC statement, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented Chinese citizens from becoming naturalized American citizens, voting or immigrating to the United States. It lasted for 60 years until 1943 and was the only federal law in U.S. history to exclude a single group of people from immigrating on no basis other than race.

Following its passage, members of the caucus released various statements regarding the bill.

“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,” Chu, the chair of the caucus, said. “The Chinese Exclusion Act enshrined injustice into our legal code… The last generation of people personally affected by these laws is leaving us, and finally Congress has expressed the sincere regret that Chinese Americans deserve and reaffirmed our commitment to the civil rights of all people.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the bill was essential for the United States. “To have moral authority around the world, we must speak out against prejudice at home,” said Pelosi. “Representing San Francisco, I know that diversity is a strength of our nation’s history.”

Rep. Mike Honda, CAPAC immigration taskforce chair, was a co-sponsor to the bill and serves as the chair emeritus of the caucus. He called for the bill to be a lesson for humanity. “The passage of anti-Chinese laws illustrates the xenophobic hysteria of this country’s shameful chapter of exclusion,” he said. “We must not vilify entire groups of people because it is politically expedient.”

The U.S. House of Representatives has previously issued three apologies: in 1988 for the wartime incarceration of persons of Japanese descent, in 1993 for the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani of Hawai‘i, and in 2008 for the institution of slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow Laws against African Americans.

The Senate passed a similar piece of legislation in October 2011.

One response to “House passes resolution of ‘regret’ for the Chinese Exclusion Act”

  1. Robert Crim Avatar

    Although there is no fault to be found in Congress’ action, such a resolution does paper over the important element in the history, which is the reason (or at least one of them) supporting the original legislation. The latter portion of the 19th Century was a period of monetary contraction in the United States punctuated by occasional depressions when banks failed and the money supply was constriicted even more. The people did not understand (and still do not understand) that deposit banks allowed to operate on the fractional-reserve principle (a) can create money from thin air (by double-counting it) and (b) destroy that money in an instant (by becoming bankrupt and going out of business). Under these latter conditions, it was natural for uneducated voters to look for culprits and, ultimately, scapegoats: Those “dirty Chinamen” who were “taking all the silver and sending it back to China.” In the wake of the Panic of 1873 and the subsequent depression (one of the longest in American history, which even bankrupted the Hearsts), anti-Chinese legislation in the form recently condemned was the result, and the lesson of history will be lost if we don’t stop to recognize not just the foolishness of what we did but the fact that it was misdirected onto the wrong target. Xenophobic attacks on “Chinamen,” “Japs,” “Mexicans,” “Muslims,” or whomever never can be a substitute for proper legislation which protects property rights or prevents fraud (it is the equivalent of throwing a black man in jail for some murder because he’s black while the real killer is allowed to continue to wander the streets). This recent Congressional action offers lip service to the foolishness of such practices, but we have yet to lock up the real crook or even recognize what’s wrong.

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