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1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Jigish Parikh

Jigish ParikhOct 07, 2021, 06:39 PM IST

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended Chinese immigration for ten years and declared Chinese immigrants ineligible for naturalization. President Chester A. Arthur signed the act and made into law on May 6, 1882.


Having itchy feet is a great virtue. It helps you disconnect from your mentally and emotionally taxing daily struggles and leads you to new places in less explored parts of the world. It led me to take the family to a lesser-known island in the Bay Area called Angel Island. This day trip turned out to be a great outdoors experience, and it also initiated me on an even greater journey of discovering something very intriguing.

The Glimpse

As a nation of immigrants, 1882 was one of the most historical landmark years in the annals of the United States of America. This was when the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended Chinese immigration for ten years and declared Chinese immigrants ineligible for naturalization. President Chester A. Arthur signed it into law on May 6, 1882. Chinese-Americans already in the country challenged the constitutionality of the discriminatory acts, but their efforts failed.

In Details

The Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914), also known as the Technological Revolution, was a phase of rapid standardization and industrialization from the late 19th century into the early 20th century. In that period, new technological systems were introduced, most significantly electrical power and telephones. The famous morse codes are an invention of that era. In that era, a combination of factors contributed to the influx of people from all over the world into the United States, including the Chinese, which eventually led to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Two major factors that contributed to the increase of Chinese labourers in America revolved around the economic growth of the 2nd Industrial Revolution and the need for cheaper labour to support it.

Two of the biggest industries that contributed to the growth of the Chinese population along the West Coast were the mining and railroad industries.

Labour for Mining

First, the growth of the mining industry. The discovery of gold near San Francisco in 1849 brought many people to the western states in the hopes of striking it rich, especially from China and other parts of Asia. Yet, the peak of the mining industry boom didn't reach its full economic prowess until the 1860s as the entire western part of the United States started to become settled by migrants.

Labour for Railroads

Second, the transportation revolution. As the railroad companies continued to expand into the West, the nation's dream of a transcontinental railroad started to become a reality. Connecting the East and West via rail was instrumental in opening new western markets to East coast based companies. Massive amounts of cheap and available labour were needed to complete the project.

China of the 19th Century

The Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60) between Great Britain and China left China in debt. Floods and drought contributed to an exodus of peasants from their farms, and many left the country to find work. When gold was discovered in California's Sacramento Valley in 1848, a large uptick in Chinese immigrants entered the United States to join the California Gold Rush.

Following an 1852 crop failure in China, over 20,000 Chinese immigrants came through San Francisco's customs house (up from 2,716 the previous year) looking for work. Violence soon broke out between white miners and the new arrivals, much of it racially charged. In May 1852, California imposed a Foreign Miners Tax of $3 per month to target Chinese miners, and crime and violence escalated.

An 1854 Supreme Court Case, People v. Hall, ruled that the Chinese, like African Americans and Native Americans, were not allowed to testify in court, making it impossible for Chinese immigrants to seek justice against the mounting violence. By 1870, Chinese miners had paid $5 million to California via the Foreign Miners Tax, yet they faced continuing discrimination at work and in their camps.

Changing gears

The details of this exclusion act and its impacts are fascinating, but let's pause now and talk about why we are discussing this subject today. Offering interesting historical tidbits is only part of the motive. More importantly, what can we learn from it? The idea of the Chinese Exclusion act in legal terms is called positive discrimination. Even the Constitution of India, which largely followed the pattern of the Government of India Act, 1935, made provisions for positive discrimination in favour of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs & STs), which constituted about 23% of divided India's population.

Some of the constitutional provisions which aimed at positive discrimination are:

# Article 17: Abolition of "untouchability" and making its practice in any form a punishable offence.

# Article 46: Promotion of educational and economic interests.

# Article 16 and 335: Preferential treatment in matters of employment in public services.

# 330 and 332: Reservation of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.

Later, the job-related positive discrimination was extended to government-supported autonomous bodies. A 1974 Government order laid down that all such bodies which employed more than 20 people, and where 50% of the recurring expenditure was met out of grants-in-aid from the Central Government, and which received annual grants-in-aid of at least Rs.200,000 should invariably provide for reservation of SCs and STs in posts and services. The general rule that exempted the scientific and technical posts from the purview of positive discrimination was also applicable to the autonomous bodies.

Changing gears [again!]

With that, let's change the gears again. Having lived almost two decades in both, it's quite reasonable to state that both the United States and India are diverse, pluralist and welcoming nations. I want to talk about an issue identical to what the United States faced in the late 19th century that India has been facing for over four decades which stems from its Eastern border. The issue of illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants into Bharat is as old as the birth of Bangladesh. There are enough essays and thesis written on the origins and complexity of this issue. So adding to the pile of research papers that we Indians rarely read would be a sub-optimal use of our time and, more importantly, one with no actionable feedback.

Until history turned a page in May 2014, Indian polity was largely driven by people with narrow vested interests and a cocktail mix of personal biases and ideologies that disproportionately favoured a community sans any national interest. The shock and horror experienced when it was reported that India's policies to promote the pink revolution was largely because a Congress/UPA cabinet-level minister owns meat processing units and export companies is still fresh.

Not just the personal interests but lack of sensitivity and attention to serious matters were so abysmal that India's homegrown ultra high-technology ladden top of the line missile was lying in a foreign dock unattended for over a month. That is good enough time for someone to dismantle the whole machine, gain critical knowledge and put it back together to evade even suspicion of espionage.

Thanks to the Modi era, things are changing for good on most traditional indicators of progress. However, there are some areas where there has been little progress made. One of those is undeniably the deportation of illegal Bangladesh immigrants. Before we talk about it, let's understand that there are two types of immigrants in general. The first category is of those who are opportunity seekers, mostly financial opportunities to improve their living standards and their families.

There is nothing wrong with seeking a better life. We all do. Being an immigrant to the United States, this categorization also befits the author. The sub-categories here are lawful legal immigration vs immigration by illegally crossing over. The second category is of those who are persecuted and harassed simply for being who they are. Their daily lives become a struggle with palpable fear for safety in a Muslim majority nation.

It is humbling and inspiring that the Modi government took cognizance of the second category of immigrants and passed the CAA in 2019, which took effect on January 10 2020. That being said, there are no reports indicating if any of the refugees have benefited based on this law. However, it must be understood that this law is undeniably one of the shinier feathers in the Modi ji's cap. This law could be rightfully described as a farsighted civilizational renaissance. Also, fulfilling one of the longest standing emotive issues pertaining to Hindus of the Indian subcontinent also charming the core voters base. Arguably the Modi government first decided to pursue the cause of the second category of the persecuted immigrants because it was a low hanging fruit.

That leaves us with the first category of immigrants, which is the gorilla in the policy room. Thanks to being a digital generation, it's easy to dig around and find precisely what Modi ji has said publicly about the immigrants from the first category making writing on the subject easier. It should be clear that when we refer to the first category, the majority of Bangladeshi entering India are financial opportunity-seeking illegal immigrants. The good news is that Modi ji seems to agree with this interpretation and has endorsed the above categorization.

During the rallies preceding the general elections of 2009, Modiji has expressed his views on the subject, long before his first stint as a PM or even much before he was seen as a contender for the highest office. He restated his stand on the matter in the poll rallies leading up to the 2014 general elections. These immigrants are tilting the delicate balance of demography in many West Bengal and Assam districts, and there are documented cases of these immigrants being part of organized criminal activities that pose a serious security threat.

Any analytical mind who has analyzed Kashmir and Kerala over the years would concur that there exists documented evidence of certain villages/districts having majority Muslims becoming national liability once the fundamentalist form of Islam flourishes, thereby denying equal rights to other communities. Yet, efforts so far to address this illegal immigration have been very modest and defensive.

A hundred per cent fenced border with Bangladesh, increased vigil and enhanced night patrolling will limit the further influx of such immigrants; however, these actions do not address the existing large illegal population. Thanks to the fact that neither the West Bengal State govt nor the Central govt has ever conducted a proper and extensive study of the illegal aliens in Bharat, guesstimating is the order of business.

Even if we leave the numbers game aside, just a casual drive through the districts of West Bengal such as Malda, Howrah, Murshidabad, Uttar Dinajpur, Birbhum, Nadia, Hooghly, large parts of North and South 24 Parganas makes it undeniably evident how they have become Muslim-dominated due to illegal infiltration sans natural population growth. And that's just the story of West Bengal. Assam is paying the price of having a bad neighbour who refuses to address the issue thanks to political correctness, the cornerstone of India's regional politics. The demographic invasion of Assam by illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators is more well-known than the West Bengal story, thanks to BJP's dynamic and outspoken chief minister of the state.

In 2001, there were only six Muslim majority districts, which went up by 50 per cent to nine by 2011, of the total 33 districts in Assam. It is worth noting here that the Muslim population is more than 50 per cent in Hailakandi, Goalpara, Barpeta, Dhubri, Darrang, Karimganj, Morigaon, Nagaon and Bongaigaon districts of Assam and more than 30 per cent in districts like Cachar, Nalbari and Kamrup. There are also ample reports that this illegal migration affects the entire nation, not just the immediate Eastern border states.

On the other end of the Indian mainland, in 2019, in the Western Indian state of Gujarat, 47 illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators suspected of being involved in local crimes and having links with the terror outfits in Bangladesh and then crossing over into India were detained. Some of them were 'repeat' offenders meaning they had been deported back to Bangladesh in the past and managed to sneak back into India [and get caught again!]

If Modi sarkar can bring a much-needed CAA bill to welcome persecuted minorities in the Indian subcontinent, it is very much capable of laying down a timebound project on war footing to deport all the illegal aliens that unfairly compete with the low wage earning legal Indian citizens and heightens security concerns across the states of India while keeping our security agencies on their toes.

Such action will be a complex task that would require a delicate dance of external affairs, home, defence and other ministries working in tandem along with the respective state govt. It is not unlikely that state govt's would frown upon such massive exercise that would have implications for their political future. However, by keeping the matter on a backburner, the Modi Govt is letting the problem worsen.

The longer these illegal aliens stay back, they enter marital prospects with Indian citizens, learn to game the slow-moving Indian bureaucratic system and find avenues to stay put by hook or crook. It is unclear if the govt is unwilling to address the issue due to the potential political impact by addressing it or if it is the lack of sustained public interest on the matter or the international lobby that could build up against India or some combination of all of these factors. Either way, it will serve the national interest in the best possible way if the Modi govt takes some proactive stance and quantifiable actions. If India's first non-Congress Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee ji could hold against the international backlash, embargoes and other punitive actions in the aftermath of the

Pokharan nuclear tests and eventually make India a stronger nation. Such deportation drive against illegal immigrants could well be Modi ji's Pokharan moment and would become the cornerstone in India's ability to set its course in its external affairs. It also behoves his position on the matter, which has been known for decades. While fully acknowledging it will not be a trivial task to gather support, the electorate should ask this question. If not Modi, who else should we pin our hopes on?

After all, by now, Modi ji is known for taking up nearly impossible tasks that have been willfully ignored by prior non-BJP governments for decades and achieving stellar results. From Ram Mandir to repeal of article 370/35A to CAA bill, PM Modi already has some amazing achievements in his bag, particularly in the 2nd term. Asking for one more small potato while buying vegetables from street vendors is irrefutable proof that asking for more is a typical Indian middle-class characteristic. CAA bill has raised the hopes of the likes of the author on the illegal aliens' matter and remains optimistic that there will be traction on this at some point in time before Modi 2.0 term runs its course.


Also read:The 7th Genocide: Denial, Debasement and Discrimination ..

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