Problems with enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion laws led Congress to abolish the “returning laborers” status, which had been documented through “Certificates of Return.” About 20,000 Chinese bearing these certificates were abruptly stranded outside the United States. Chinese challenged this law in court, in the case Chae Chan Ping v. U.S., arguing that the “Certificates of Return” should be honored as contractual agreements between the now-excluded workers and the U.S. government. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, citing the “plenary powers” of the U.S. government over immigration matters. This decision helped establish the foundations of the extensive powers and authority claimed by federal authorities over immigration and immigrants.
U.S. Supreme Court, The Chinese Exclusion Case, 130 U.S. 581 (1889) The Chinese Exclusion Case
Argued March 28-29, 1889
Decided May 13, 1889
130 U.S. 581
This case comes before us on appeal from an order of the circuit court of the United States for the Northern district of California, refusing to release the appellant, on a writ of habeas corpus, from his alleged unlawful detention by Capt. Walker, master of the steam-ship Belgic, lying within the harbor of San Francisco. The appellant is a subject of the emperor of China, and a laborer by occupation. He resided at San Francisco, Cal., following his occupation, from some time in 1875 until June 2, 1887, when he left for China on the steam-ship Gaelic, having in his possession a certificate in terms entitling him to return to the United States, bearing date on that day, duly issued to him by the collector of customs of the port of San Francisco, pursuant to the provisions of section 4 of the restriction act of May 6, 1882 [Chinese Exclusion Act], as amended by the act of July 5, 1884, (22 St. p. 59, c. 126; 23 St. p. 115, c. 220.) On the 7th of September, 1888, the appellant, on his return to California, sailed from Hong Kong in the steam-ship Belgic, which arrived within the port of San Francisco on the 8th of October following. On his arrival he presented to the proper custom-house officers his certificate, and demanded permission to land. The collector of the port refused the permit, solely on the ground that under the act of congress approved October 1, 1888 [Scott Act], supplementary to the restriction acts of 1882 and 1884, the certificate had been annulled, and his right to land abrogated, and he had been thereby forbidden again to enter the United States. 25 St. p. 504, c. 1064. The captain of the steam-ship, therefore, detained the appellant on board the steamer. Thereupon a petition on his behalf was presented to the circuit court of the United States for the Northern district of California, alleging that he was unlawfully restrained of his liberty, and praying that a writ of habeas corpus might be issued directed to the master of the steam-ship, commanding him to have the body of the appellant, with the cause of his detention, before the court at a time and place designated, to do and receive what might there be considered in the premises. A writ was accordingly issued, and in obedience to it the body of the appellant was produced before the court. Upon the hearing which followed, the court, after finding the facts substantially as stated, held as conclusions of law that the appellant was not entitled to enter the United States, and was not unlawfully restrained of his liberty, and ordered that he be remanded to the custody of the master of the steam-ship from which he had been taken under the writ. From this order an appeal was taken to this court…