WASHINGTON — One hundred and thirty years after passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the House on Monday expressed its regret for enacting discriminatory laws targeting Chinese immigrants.
The rare apology came on a resolution sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress.
“This is a proud moment for all Americans who treasure justice and equality,’’ said Carolyn Hong Chan, national president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance.
Chu, whose grandfather was forced to register and carry a certificate of residence for about 40 years because of the laws, told House colleagues Monday: “It is for my grandfather and for all Chinese Americans who were told for six decades by the U.S. government that the land of the free wasn’t open to them that we must pass this resolution.
“We must finally and formally acknowledge these ugly laws that were incompatible with America’s founding principles,” she added. “By doing so, we will acknowledge that discrimination has no place in our society.”
The Senate approved a similar resolution last fall.
“It’s a very significant day for the Chinese American community,’’ said Martin Gold, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist who volunteered his services to Chinese American groups to help win passage of the resolution.
“It’s a point of closure,’’ he added, noting that many Chinese Americans have personal stories about family members affected by anti-Chinese laws.
The vote came after Chu revised the resolution to specify that nothing in it should be construed as support for reparations.
Chu was approached by a coalition of Chinese American groups to introduce the resolution shortly after her election to the House in 2009. The resolution made it to the House floor after Chinese Americans stepped up efforts to persuade their representatives to support the measure.
“It took a nationwide effort,’’ she said in an interview.
To call attention to the resolution, she recently held a news conference at the downtown Los Angeles site of the 1871 Chinese Massacre, in which 19 Chinese were killed by a mob of about 500.
Between 1879 and 1904, Congress passed a number of laws targeting Chinese immigrants, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, signed by President Arthur. It barred Chinese laborers from entering the country for a decade (and later extended) and denied U.S. citizenship to Chinese immigrants already here. The law was repealed in 1943 after China became a U.S. ally in World War II.
In 2009, California issued a similar apology for the state’s discrimination against Chinese immigrants.
Congress has issued similar apologies before, but they are rare.
In 1993, Congress apologized to Hawaiians for the U.S.-led overthrow of their monarchy in 1893.
In 1988, President Reagan signed legislation providing $1.25 billion, or $20,000 each, in reparations and a formal apology for Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
In 2008, the House issued an apology to African Americans “on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.” The Senate passed a similar resolution a year later.