In the later part of the 19th century, the United States passed legislation that was meant to, first curb, then finally to eliminate Chinese immigration to the country. A large part of the reason had to do with fear that the numbers of Chinese immigrants were driving down wages and taking jobs away from other Americans (probably picked more because of the obvious racial and cultural differences than anything else—if you can't recognize the "target," it's difficult to know what to "aim" at). The irony that these "Americans" were mostly only a few generations away from being immigrants, themselves, should be noted.

Whenever there is an economic downturn—as the depression of the 1870s prior to its passage, blame must be assigned and the Chinese immigrants made a good scapegoat. There had already be various local and state laws discriminating against them and the federal government finally passed the legislation to begin accomplishing the desired limitation of immigration (thus solving the "Chinese problem"): the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Beginning with a ban of twenty years (later reduced to ten), the act ended any immigration from China. Though Chinese residents were free to both travel within the United States and to and from China, they were required to carry a certificate of identification giving their status as residents prior to the passage of the measure. It also stipulated that Chinese could not become US citizens. Later amendments tightened the requirements on certification (both for issuance and receipt) and made the act applicable to all Chinese, regardless of national origin or citizenship.

The Scott Act of 1888 effectively ended all immigration by voiding all certificates and no longer allowing any Chinese to return from overseas (stranding an estimated twenty to thirty thousand out of the country at the time).

In time for the ten year period to run out, Thomas J. Geary (Democrat, California) introduced what became the Geary Act (1892). It extended the period an additional ten years (in 1902, the 1882 act became law and two years later the period and conditions were "reenacted, extended, and continued, without modification, limitation, or condition," making it "indefinite)."

Additionally, an "internal passport" (another item dropped from the original act) was introduced and required for all Chinese residents—any of whom were caught without it faced deportation. In order to "prove" one's status in the case of a lost certificate—or circumstances that caused the person to not receive one ("by reason of accident, sickness or other unavoidable cause")— at least "one credible white witness" was required to satisfy the court.

If the person could prove citizenship with another country, they would be deported outright (unless the other country chose to issue a tax for the removal, in which case: straight to China). One who could not prove citizenship of another country would get prison time ("hard labor") for up to a year before deportation to China. The act was "kind" enough to allow time in certain situations for the person to attain a duplicate (at cost). Non-laborers could get a certificate without having to pay. As discriminatory as that was, the act went further so as to deny bail in habeas corpus proceedings.

As with the Scott Act, the Supreme Court upheld the Geary Act.

The legislation effecting Chinese immigration remained until 1943 (expanded to other Asians in 1924), when limited immigration (probably no coincidence, as China was an ally in World War II) was allowed: 105 Chinese per year. The quota stayed in place until 1965 when it was lifted and grants of citizenship were allowed.

(Sources: see Chinese Immigration and the United States, the text from the act can be found at

Geary Act of 1892

Fifty-Second Congress. Session I. 1892.

Chapter 60. —An act to prohibit the coming of Chinese persons into the United States.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all laws now in force prohibiting and regulating the coming into this country of Chinese persons and persons of Chinese descent are hereby continued in force for a period of ten years from the passage of this act.

SEC. 2. That any Chinese person or person of Chinese descent, when convicted and adjudged under any of said laws to be not lawfully entitled to be or remain in the United States, shall be removed from the United States to China, unless he or they shall make it appear to the justice, judge, or commissioner before whom he or they are tried that he or they are subjects or citizens of some other country, in which case he or they shall be removed from the United States to such country: Provided, That in any case where such other country of which such Chinese person shall claim to be a citizen or subject shall demand any tax as a condition of removal of such person to that country, he or she shall be removed to China.

SEC. 3. That any Chinese person or person of Chinese descent arrested under the provisions of this act or the acts hereby extended shall be adjudged to be unlawfully within the United States unless such person shall establish, by affirmative proof, to the satisfaction of such justice, judge, or commissioner, his lawful right to remain in the United States.

SEC. 4. That any Chinese person or person of Chinese descent convicted and adjudged to be not lawfully entitled to be or remain in the United States shall be imprisoned at hard labor for a period of not exceeding on e year and thereafter removed from the United States, as hereinbefore provided.

SEC. 5. That after the passage of this act on an application to any judge or court of the United States in the first instance for a writ of habeas corpus, by a Chinese person seeking to land in the United States, to whom that privilege has been denied, no bail shall be allowed, and such application shall be heard and determined promptly without unnecessary delay.

SEC. 6. And it shall be the duty of all Chinese laborers within the limits of the United States, at the time of the passage of this act, and who are entitled to remain in the United States, to apply to the collector of internal revenue of their respective districts, within one year after the passage of this act, for a certificate of residence, and any Chinese laborer, within the limits of the United States, who shall neglect, fail, or refuse to comply with the provisions of this act, or who, after one year from the passage hereof, shall be found within the jurisdiction of the United States without such certificate of residence, shall be deemed and adjudged to be unlawfully within the United States, and may be arrested, by any United States customs official, collector of internal revenue or his deputies, United States marshal or his deputies, and taken before a United States judge, whose duty it shall be to order that he be deported from the United States as hereinbefore provided, unless he shall establish clearly to the satisfaction of said judge, that by reason of accident, sickness or other unavoidable cause, he has been unable to procure his certificate, and to the satisfaction of the court, and by at least one credible white witness, that he was a resident of the United States at the time of the passage of this act; and if upon the hearing, it shall appear that he is so entitled to a certificate, it shall be granted upon his paying the cost. Should it appear that said Chinaman had procured a certificate which has been lost or destroyed, he shall be detained and judgment suspended a reasonable time to enable him to procure a duplicate from the officer granting it, and in such cases, the cost of said arrest and trial shall be in the discretion of the court. And any Chinese person other than a Chinese laborer, having a right to be and remain in the United States, desiring such certificate as evidence of such right may apply for and receive the same without charge.

SEC. 7. That immediately after the passage of this act, the Secretary of the Treasury shall make such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the efficient execution of this act, and shall prescribe the necessary forms and furnish the necessary blanks to enable collectors of internal revenue to issue the certificates required hereby, and make such provisions that certificates may be procured in localities convenient to the applicant, and shall contain the name, age, local residence and occupation of the applicants, such other description of the applicant as shall be prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, and a duplicate thereof shall be filed in the office of the collector of internal revenue for the district within which such Chinaman makes application.

SEC. 8. That any person who shall knowingly and falsely alter or substitute any name for the name written in such certificate or forge such certificate, or knowing utter any forged or fraudulent certificate, or falsely personate any person name in such certificate, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be fined in a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars or imprisoned in the penitentiary for a term of not more than five years.

SEC. 9. The Secretary of the Treasury may authorize the payment of such compensation in the nature of fees to the collectors of internal revenue, for services performed under the provisions of this act in addition to salaries now allowed by law, as he shall deem necessary, not exceeding the sum of one dollar for each certificate issued.

Approved, May 5, 1892.

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