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[Detail] Millions of acres, Iowa and Nebraska, 1872

Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making: Chinese and Japanese Exclusion Acts

U.S. immigration policy has, over time, reflected changing social and political attitudes. In the late nineteenth century, anti-Chinese sentiments, especially in the western states, led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the renewal of the act until exclusion became permanent.

Restrictions placed on the immigration of Chinese labor did not, however, quell anti-Chinese feelings. In 1885 Chinese laborers were massacred at Rock Springs, Wyoming. The Chinese ambassador to the United States directed a letter to the President, the Senate, and the House of Representatives deploring the government's failure to protect Chinese immigrants. Based on declarations from different regions in Idaho the following year, the territorial governor issued a proclamation forbidding municipalities from enforcing their decrees to expel Chinese from their localities on May 1.

Negative attitudes were not confined to the Chinese. In 1905 the mayor of San Francisco called for the exclusion of Japanese. Mayor Eugene Schmitz considered the Japanese threat more serious than Chinese laborers who had been excluded by the Exclusion Act of 1882.

"I would sooner see the bars of civilization let down on this western borderland to the heathen Chinese, and meet all of the grave dangers incidental to their coming, than to witness an unrestricted Japanese immigration, fraught with the many great evils that would at once beset our industrial welfare if the brown toilers of the mikado's realm were permitted to swarm through our gates unhindered."

From "San Francisco Mayor Wants Exclusion Act to Bar the Japs"

  • What reason did Mayor Schmitz give for total exclusion of Japanese immigration?
  • What can you infer from the interview regarding the mayor's attitude towards Chinese laborers?
  • How did California's opposition to the entry of Japanese immigrants in 1905 (and subsequent years, notably following the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906) affect U.S. diplomatic relations with Japan?
  • What other examples can you give of how U.S. immigration policy has historically been influenced by negative attitudes toward particular groups? Do you think prejudice still plays a role in immigration policy? Explain your answer.