Anti-Asian Sentiment in Early 20th Century America

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In the wake of the Civil War and the major improvements in the lives of African Americans during Reconstruction that followed, America saw its inequitable treatment of minorities shift from African Americans to Asian immigrants. To clarify, African Americans were still subject to much racial terrorism and many civil rights abuses, but they had recently gained major legislative victories with the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment in 1868 that had helped to ensure their legal citizenship and equal rights in America. During this same time period, Asian immigration to America had begun to increase. Due to the nativist feelings that still pervaded in post-Civil War America and concerns about the labor market brought about by this new era of great immigration to our nation, Asian immigrants soon found themselves in a similar yet very different situation from the racist environment that had afflicted African Americans for so many years. Through an examination of the immigration policies and laws that applied to Asians during the late 1800s and early 1900s, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, Asiatic Barred Zone Act, and Immigration Act of 1924, it is apparent that the American public and government were only continuing and reemphasizing previously present prejudices and deep-seated racism. Legislation during this period made Asian Americans into a racial scapegoat in the presence of improved conditions for African Americans as well as a below average domestic economic circumstances. Specifically, the U.S. government put into place laws and policies that blanketed concerns about the effects of mass immigration on the domestic labor market with xenophobic rhetoric and skewed racial justifications. During the late-19th and early 20th centuries, Asian immigrants were subject to discriminatory, racist immigration policies in the United States of America. Beginning with the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and culminating with Congress’s overwhelming passing of the Immigration Act of 1924, Asians wishing to immigrate to America faced extremely stringent immigration restrictions that severely limited or even restricted outright the number of people that could enter America annually from each individual foreign population. These limitations were obviously devastating to the Asian population that desired to move to America. However, the discrimination and racism through which Asian immigrants suffered was nothing new in America. In essence, the laws and policies put into effect during this period of Asian exclusion were more of a continuation and stratification of previously existing discriminatory policies. Immigration Legislation

The Naturalization Act of 1790 established the initial guidelines for the naturalization process by limiting the privilege to “free white persons” of “good moral character.” Using this standard as a starting point, the American government would continue to reaffirm the notion that only select races and cultures were fit to become U.S. citizens by putting into place several other legal biases in order to ensure a continued white majority in the country. The reason federal legislature was able to revise these laws as well as append new immigration policies to previously existing ones so arbitrarily was simply because it was constitutional. The constitution plainly states that Congress has the ability to determine and enact a standard for naturalization as a citizen. The broad power of the federal government with regard to immigration then is derived from its ability to completely control the entire immigration and naturalization processes as it sees fit. Another piece of legislation that would become extremely important with regard to later immigration policies and laws was the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ratified in July 1868 during Reconstruction (along with the 13th and 15th amendments, the three are known as a group as the Reconstruction amendments), the...
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