Asian Exclusion Laws Asian Exclusion Laws There were a very large number of local, state, and federal laws that were specifically aimed at disrupting the flow of Chinese and Japanese immigrants to the United States. Two of the major laws were the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1907-1908 Gentlemans Agreement. Although the laws had some differences, they were quite similar and had similar impacts on the immigrant population. The 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, which outlawed Chinese immigration. It also explicitly denied naturalization rights to Chinese, meaning they were not allowed to become citizens, as they were not free whites. Prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act, some 300,000 laborers arrived in California, and the act was intended to primarily prevent the entry of more laborers.

The passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first attempt by congress to ban a group of immigrants based on race or color. The only Chinese that legally entered the United States during the six decades the Exclusion Act was in place were those in “exempted classes” such as merchants, students, diplomats, and travelers (Chan). An unknown number illegally entered through the Canadian and Mexican borders and many others entered as “paper sons.” The act did not prevent Chinese immigration per se; it simply prevented most legal immigration. The 1907-1908 Gentlemans Agreement was the result of a conflict between the San Francisco school board and the Asian (particularly Japanese) community related to school segregation. President Roosevelt made an agreement with the Japanese government. In exchange for the school boards allowing Japanese students to attend white schools in California, the Japanese government agreed to stop issuing passports to laborers.

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(Chan) Despite the enactment of the Gentlemans Agreement, some 120,000 Japanese arrived in California during the fifteen years proceeding the agreement (Chan). The two pieces of legislation were similar in that they attempted to halt the immigration of laborers. It seemed the United States government was sending a message that they wanted only educated, professional immigrants from Asian countries, and there was no longer a need for the laborers they once welcomed. The Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentlemans Agreement were both blatant attempts by the United States to close the door to Asian immigrants. While other pieces of legislation were merely punitive to the immigrants already here, such as the Alien Land Laws and the Foreign Miners Tax, these clearly aimed to deny Asian immigrants entry to the United States.

The Gentlemans Agreement was less restrictive than the Chinese Exclusion Act, as it allowed Japanese women to enter the United States. From the beginning of the Japanese immigration there was an understanding that women would be allowed to enter the U.S., and the Gentlemans Agreement did not rescind that. The Chinese Exclusion Act and the Gentlemans Agreement were quite similar with similar impacts on the immigrant population, although their names suggest otherwise. The Chinese Exclusion Act sounds very harsh, while the Gentlemans Agreement sounds more genteel. Deceptive names aside, the two pieces of legislation were very much the same.