Author Discusses Immigration History on Chinese New Year

By Anita Flores

Author Martin Gold. (Photo Credit: Marc Tramonte)

Author Martin Gold. (Photo Credit: Marc Tramonte)

As the Rogue Valley celebrated the Chinese New Year over the weekend Southern Oregon University welcomed attorney Martin Gold to speak about his new book Forbidden Citizens: Chinese Exclusion and the U.S. Congress: A Legislative History on Friday, February 7, in the Hannon Library.

Gold also spoke on the passage of State Resolution 201 in 2011, which expresses regret for Chinese exclusion laws that are discussed in his book. His discussion on Friday detailed the contents of his book concerning these federal discriminatory laws that were passed exclusively against Chinese people between 1879 and 1943.

The discussion included Gold’s explanation of these laws within a historical context. Chinese immigration began in the 1840’s with the start of the California Gold Rush era and people’s hope for a better future. While the Chinese built new lives and contributed to major construction and production within the U.S., Americans did not favor or welcome Chinese immigrants despite the provisions for equal treatment of Chinese immigrants in the 1868 Burlingame Treaty.

During this period, immigration to the United States was open and fairly uncomplicated for Europeans, but was more challenging for immigrants from other parts of the world. As a result of the racial prejudices Americans had toward the Chinese, the Chinese Exclusion Act was made a law in 1882, suspending Chinese immigration for 20 years and prohibiting state and federal courts from naturalizing Chinese individuals. Many revisions to this act took place over the following years, such as shortening the suspension to 10 years and broadening the Chinese Exclusion Act to apply to “all persons of Chinese descent.”

Gold also discussed The Scott Act of 1888, which prohibited all Chinese laborers who left the United States from reentering.  The Scott Act canceled all previously issued “certificates of return,” meaning that 20,000 Chinese laborers who were then-overseas who held these certificates could not return to the United States. The Geary Act of 1892 extended all previous Chinese Exclusion Laws by ten years.  By requiring Chinese individuals in the United States to carry a “certificate of residence” at all times, the Geary Act made those who could not produce these certificates “presumptively deportable” unless they could establish residence through the testimony of “at least one credible white witness.” In 1904, Congress made all Chinese exclusion laws permanent.

In some instances the current president or the Supreme Court would recognize how the Act was inconsistent with previous U.S.-China treaty obligations, and the bill would be vetoed despite the laws thereafter still being discriminatory and unjust. Nonetheless, there were a number of senate representatives that opposed the act, including Senator George Hoar from Massachusetts, who stood alone with his vote opposing the permanent extension of the exclusion law against 76 ‘yeas.’ Gold’s book is dedicated to Hoar.

The passage of State Resolution 201 has allowed Congress to acknowledge and express regret for what laws the Chinese people had to endure. What is most important is that the wrong of the injustice of racist and discriminatory laws is addressed and corrected over 100 years later and that this too becomes part of our American history.

More information on Gold’s book can be found on thecapitol.net.

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