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In spite of the 1880 United States and China Treaty giving the U.S. the right to limit but "not absolutely prohibit" Chinese immigration, the U.S. Congress passes an exclusionary FEDERAL IMMIGRATION LAW hitherto without precedent: the CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT of 1882. The Act bans immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States and prohibits Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens. Their American-born children will also have to fight in the courts, in a series of cases, to finally claim de facto their de jure constitutional right to citizenship by birth.

Although initially designed for the Chinese, as each of the other four early Asian groups arrive - Japanese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Koreans - the same Chinese Exclusion law will be bent, twisted and arbitrarily added onto, in changing permutations, to restrict naturalization rights as well. The applied law was not interested in real differences between the groups in language, culture, nationality, religion, class or even "race" as defined by the ethnologists of the day (i.e., Asian Indians are not "Mongolians").

Enforced for 60 years (1882-1943), and disabling to normal Asian family formation in America, the Chinese Exclusion Act is actively challenged by the Chinese. Multiple court cases are brought by community leaders, and failing collective redress in the courts, the law is ultimately circumvented by a variety of improvised survival strategies.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake / Chinese "Paper Sons"
The San Francisco earthquake destroys records and allows the beginning of the "paper son" strategy to circumvent immigration exclusion. Some Chinese claim citizenship status, proof of which was lost in the earthquake. So, new citizenship papers are obtained, and with it, the derivative right to pass on citizenship rights to one’s children. These are then "paper sons" of American citizens who have the right to immigrate to the U.S. (They tend to be "sons" rather than "daughters" following the period’s patriarchal privileging of males.) And these "paper son" papers may be given to a relative or sold.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is finally repealed in 1943 during World War II, as a goodwill gesture to U.S. wartime ally, China, allowing naturalization for the first time, as well as immigration. The immigration quota newly allotted the Chinese, however, is set at a minuscule 105 per year, collectively from all countries, compared to thousands per year allowed immigrants from individual West European countries.

Each Asian American group, in turn mount their own separate battles in U.S. courts seeking to gain immigration and naturalization rights, livelihood, labor, education rights and redress of various social inequalities. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law is amended to require a certificate as the sole permissible evidence for re-entry.

1888 - Scott Act nullifies Chinese reentry certificates, stranding 20,000 Chinese visiting abroad, denying their right of return to the US.

1889 - Chan Ping vs. U.S. upholds constitutionality of Chinese exclusion.

1892 - Geary Law renews exclusion of Chinese laborers for another ten years and requires all Chinese to register.

1892 - Fong Yue Ting vs. U.S. challenges requirement to register and loses to U.S. Supreme Court upholding constitutionality of Geary Law requiring registration.

1884 - Joseph and Mary Tape sue San Francisco school board to enroll their daughter, Mamie, in a public school; win their case in the California State Supreme Court.

1885 - San Francisco builds new segregated "oriental school" to thwart the full effect of the requirement to include "Mongolian" children in the public schools.

1885 - Chinese laundry men win case in Yick Wo vs. Hopkins, which declares that a law with unequal impact on different groups is discriminatory and is unconstitutional.

1898 - Wong Kim Ark vs. U.S. Supreme Court case decides that Chinese born in the United States cannot be stripped of their citizenship rights.