Joey here.

I pose in front of the Museum of Chinese in America. The building was designed by Maya Lin, an American born and raised in Ohio by Chinese immigrant parents. Ms. Lin also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

The most widely acknowledged persecution of immigrants to America is that of people from Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africans were forced by their neighbors, and by Americans and Europeans, into slavery in what became the United States. The right of European Americans to enslave Africans and their America-born descendants was guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In 1803, Congress passed a law to punish anyone who brought black people—even free black people—to the U.S. See Public Acts of the Seventh Congress, 2nd Session, Chapter X, enacted February 28, 1803.

Now that you have read this, if anyone tells you that racism was not baked into the founding of the United States, we encourage you to laugh out loud.

Beginning with constitutional amendments after the Civil War (1861-65), there was a slow, grudging acknowledgement that people of African descent had a place in America. For example, the Naturalization Act of 1906 allowed “aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent” to become U.S. citizens.

Meanwhile, another group was broadly and explicitly banned from immigrating to the United States.


First the Chinese. Then all East and South Asians.

Racist 1886 detergent advertisement, subtitled, “The Chinese Must Go”.

Some of the laws restricting Asian immigration:

The Page Act prohibited the entry of Chinese women (1875). The Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese men and made them ineligible for citizenship (1882). The Scott Act prevented the reentry of any ethnic Chinese who left the U.S. (1888). The Geary Act extended the Chinese Exclusion Act, required Chinese residents to carry a permit, and barred them from being witnesses in court or from receiving bail in habeas corpus proceedings (1892). The “Gentlemen’s Agreement” pressured Japan to bar workers from emigrating to the U.S. (1907).

Congress enacted restrictions. Lawyers found loopholes. Congress plugged the loopholes.

‘Round and ‘round it went, until Congress had the last word. The Immigration Act of 1924 imposed a total ban on East Asian and South Asian immigration to the United States.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943, when the wartime US-China alliance made the Act an embarrassment. Even then, only 105 Chinese were allowed to immigrate annually. The 1924 ban on other Asian immigrants remained.

The Asian ban finally ended in 1965.

A quiet bit of Manhattan’s busy Chinese neighborhood. (Other large Chinese communities are in Queens and Brooklyn.) On the Lower East Side, Chinese immigrants replaced the Jews and Italians, who had replaced the Irish and Germans, who had replaced the Dutch and English, who had replaced the Lenape. Newcomers someday will replace the Chinese. People who move in, and up, keep America great.

Jeffrey has had South and East Asian clients from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, Tajikistan, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Bhutan, and Korea, among others. Some qualified to immigrate based on family or professional ties. Most had a well-founded fear of persecution back home. All have been a gift to our country.

The Chinese have contributed to American infrastructure (the Transcontinental Railroad), cuisine, science and technology, medicine, letters (Maya Lin’s mother, poet Julia Chang Lin, was a professor of literature at Ohio University), commerce, defense, agriculture, music, and more—just like every group before them and since.

One Chinese man, whom we’ll call Sam, discovered corruption at his workplace. Sam dutifully reported it to local Communist Party officials. The officials were corrupt, too; they jailed and tortured Sam. Sam escaped to San Francisco—a tale in itself—found his way to Jeffrey, and was suspicious when Jeffrey offered to help him for free. (Suspicion is common in people from countries where only loved ones help without expecting payment.) To calm Sam’s fears, Jeffrey said that his religion (a concept alien to Sam) commanded him to help. For emphasis, Jeffrey gave Sam a handful of chocolate coins and NYC subway tokens.

After a court fight—another tale, involving shameful government behavior—an immigration judge granted asylum. Sam was safe at last.

Sam started his new life with an aching back: forbidden to work while his case was pending, he’d survived by riding a free casino bus to and from Atlantic City six days per week, six hours per day, and keeping the $15 in gambling coins given to each passenger.

His first job in America: driving an airport shuttle bus!

Years later, Jeffrey learned that Sam still had the chocolates and subway tokens, symbols of his welcome to America.

4 thoughts on “Banned

  1. I learn something new all the time reading your posts, Jeff! Great civics lesson and an amazing story of grit on the part of Sam. Happy he’s among us!


Comments are closed.