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NY Lawmakers Ask Obama to Formally Apologize for Chinese Exclusion Act

A group of New York state lawmakers sent a letter last week to President Barack Obama, asking him to issue a government apology for the passage and enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The letter, written by Democratic state Assemblyman Ron Kim and signed by 20 other state legislators, said there are striking parallels between the exclusion act, which banned Chinese from entering the United States or becoming citizens, and rhetoric that has surfaced in recent political discourse.

When the exclusion law was in effect, Chinese immigrants were often subjected to detention and questioning at San Francisco’s Angel Island. Interview, 1923
When the exclusion law was in effect, Chinese immigrants were often subjected to detention and questioning at San Francisco’s Angel Island. Interview, 1923. National Archives at College Park, MD; New York Historical Museum

In effect from 1882 to 1943, the act was the first major federal law to restrict immigration of an ethnic group.

"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," reads the letter, dated June 16.

Kim, whose Queens district is home to many Chinese Americans, told NBC News in a statement that he and the legislators who signed the letter believe in a nation that learns from its mistakes and one that embraces diversity and immigration.

"At a time when some Republicans are openly endorsing policies to exclude entire groups of people based on their race or religion, I'm standing with my colleagues in the New York Legislature to promote a better America," he said.

The White House told NBC News that President Obama has addressed the Chinese Exclusion Act in past remarks, citing proclamations opening the 2013 and 2014 Asian Pacific American Heritage Months.

In 2012, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution introduced by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), formally expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act and other legislation that discriminated against Chinese Americans. A year before, the Senate unanimously voted through a similar resolution, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

RELATED: When History Repeats: What Leaders Can Learn from Anti-Asian Laws in U.S. History

Signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur, the Chinese Exclusion Act placed a 10-year ban on Chinese labor immigration, beginning in 1882. The act sought to quell fears among Americans born in the U.S. that Chinese were responsible for rising unemployment and declining wages.

The ban was extended another 10 years in 1892 with the Geary Act and was made permanent in 1902. Restrictions included requiring Chinese to register and obtain a certificate of residence or face deportation.

Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943.

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