Problems with enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion laws led Congress to eliminate the “returning laborers” status, which had been documented through “Certificates of Return.” About 20,000 Chinese workers bearing these certificates were abruptly stranded outside the United States after they had been promised an exemption to the Exclusion laws. Chinese workers 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.
“Be it enacted by the senate and house of representatives of the United States of America, in congress assembled, that from and after the passage of this act it shall be unlawful for and Chinese laborer who shall at any time heretofore have been . . . a resident within the United States, and who shall have departed, or shall depart, therefrom, and shall not have returned before the passage of this act, to return to or remain the United States.
Sec. 2. That no certificates of identity provided for in the fourth and fifth sections of the act to which this is a supplement [the Chinese Exclusion Act] . . . is hereby declared void and of no effect, and the Chinese laborer claiming admission by virtue thereof shall not be permitted to enter the United States.
Sec. 3. That all the duties prescribed, liabilities, penalties, and forfeitures imposed, and the powers conferred, by [the Chinese Exclusion Acts] to which this is a supplement, are hereby extended, and made applicable to the provisions of this act.
Sec. 4. That all such part or parts of the act to which this is a supplement as are inconsistent herewith are hereby repealed.
Approved October 1, 1888.”
“The Chinese Question” (1877)
“From their Asiatic hive they [coolies] still come pouring forth, and it is fair to presume, will increase in volume as the advantages offered by the outside world in wages and liberal government become better known, accelerated too by the famines, internal wars and pestilence, which so frequently devastate their own country… As suggested, he comes here as a laborer. He personifies the character in its absolutely menial aspect-what the operation of fifty centuries of paganism, poverty, and oppression have made him,-a mere animal machine, performing the duties in his accepted sphere, punctually and patiently, but utterly incapable of any improvement, and in this phase of the question the most serious phase of the problem is presented…” (p. 5)
If he seems to conform to our ways it is only to get a better foothold for money-making. He professes friendship, of which sentiment he has not the remotest conception. He is cruel and unrelenting, only waiting the opportunity in which he may safely strike the object of his spite, cupidity or superstition… Capable of such deeds, can the injection of such a race into our body politic be viewed by any thinking American without anxiety and alarm?” (pp. 11-12)
-Former Congressman of New York, Edwin Meade
Excerpts from: Meade, E. R. (1887, Sept. 7) “The Chinese Question”: A paper read at the annual meeting of the Social Science Association of America, Saratoga, NY.