New York lawmakers ask Obama for official U.S. apology for Chinese Exclusion Act

"To Chinese Americans, their descendants, and all whose lives were affected by the Chinese Exclusion Act."

A soap advertisement from the 1880s, sub-titled 'The Chinese Must Go'

In New York, a group of state lawmakers have sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to issue a government apology for the passage and enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which specifically targeted and barred Chinese immigrants from entering or becoming citizens of the United States.

Signed into federal law by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882, and fueled by widespread anti-Chinese sentiment, the Chinese Exclusion Act was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in U.S. history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. It was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States, and lasted for over sixty years.

The letter, written by state Assemblyman Ron Kim and signed by twenty other state legislators, calls for the President to issue an official apology on behalf of the United States Government "to Chinese Americans, their descendants, and all whose lives were affected by the Chinese Exclusion Act."

The letter also draws parallels between the 19th century fear and prejudice that gave way to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the contemporary rhetoric of scapegoating and xenophobia that seek to "sow hatred and division within our nation" -- including calls, once again, for immigration bans on entire groups based on faith or country of origin.

Here's the full text of the letter:

June 16, 2016
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama:

We write to you in regards to a chapter of infamy in the history of our nation. Over 134 years ago, our government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and for the first and only time in our country, an entire ethnic group was banned from entering or becoming citizens of America. This injustice lasted for over sixty years, and during that time countless individuals -- including immigrants and laborers who helped build the First Transcontinental Railroad -- were persecuted, systemically discriminated against, and relegated to the status of second-class residents. Today, we ask that as the leader of our great country you issue an official apology on behalf of the United States Government to Chinese Americans, their descendants, and all whose lives were affected by the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In the late 19th century, during a time of economic decline, Americans across the country and especially those in California took a turn away from the better angels of our nature. During this dark period of our nation, those who fed off of bigotry and hate began to encourage vicious stereotypes and scapegoat Chinese immigrants as the source of society's problems. They were known for accepting lower wages for often dangerous jobs that others refused, and their differences in appearance and customs further fueled their vilification.

By 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act had been passed and signed into law. It was permanently extended in 1902 and reinforced by the Immigration Act of 1924. All Chinese residents were forced to obtain certificates to live in or reenter the United States, and those without documentation faced deportation. Numerous families were torn apart, with married men forever separated from their wives and children, and others barred from bringing anyone from China or starting families in the place they called home. Many people became "paper sons," forced to renounce their true names and heritage for falsified identities in order to stay in America. Chinese American citizens were even denied entry back to their country because of their race.

The parallels with our present are striking and prescient. In the twenty-first century, new voices have emerged seeking to sow hatred and division within our nation, to demonize other ethnicities, and to again call for the total ban of an entire group of immigrants based on faith or country of origin. We ask that you seize this opportunity, in these times of extreme rhetoric and dire partisanship, to decisively reject fear and prejudice, and show America's true character as a country founded on tolerance, equality, and freedom. We ask that you act to issue an official apology from the United States Government for the passage and enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the laws that succeeded it, as well as the widespread persecution and oppression of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans that followed. We ask that you take another essential step in our nation's ongoing journey to reconcile with its past and become whole with its complex history, to finally give countless Americans a path towards healing and closure.


Ron Kim
Member of Assembly
District 40, Queens

Michael Blake
Member of Assembly
District 79, Bronx

Annette Robinson
Member of Assembly
District 56, Brooklyn

Walter Mosley
Member of Assembly
District 59, Brooklyn

Robert Rodriguez
Member of Assembly
District 68, Manhattan

William Colton
Member of Assembly
District 47, Brooklyn

Erik Dilan
Member of Assembly
District 54, Brooklyn

Daniel Quart
Member of Assembly
District 73, Manhattan

Nily Rozic
Member of Assembly
District 25, Queens

Peter Abbate
Member of Assembly
District 49, Brooklyn

Richard Gottfried
Member of Assembly
District 75, Manhattan

Edward Braunstein
Member of Assembly
District 26, Queens

Luis Sepulveda
Member of Assembly
District 87, Bronx

Michelle Schimel
Member of Assembly
District 16, North Hempstead

Michael DenDekker
Member of Assembly
District 34, Queens

Jo Anne Simon
Member of Assembly
District 52, Brooklyn

Francisco Moya
Member of Assembly
District 39, Queens

Daniel Squadron
Member of Senate
District 26, NYC

Toby Stavisky
Member of Senate
District 16, NYC

Kevin Parker
Member of Senate
District 21, NYC

Jesse Hamilton
Member of Senate
District 20, NYC

More here: NY Lawmakers Ask Obama to Formally Apologize for Chinese Exclusion Act

angry archive