The Asian Exclusion Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1924 as part of the Immigration Act of 1924. It is an example of race-specific legislation designed to restrict people's freedom of movement based on their race and national origin, and it has been heavily criticized by historians. The Asian Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 with the passing of the Magnuson Act, which instituted quotas for immigrants from around the world. In 1965, the Immigration Act passed the House and the Senate by a large margin, and it abolished quotas for immigrants based on national origin.
The roots of the Asian Exclusion Act lie in the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was passed in 1882. The Chinese Exclusion Act prevented all Chinese immigration specifically, and it was renewed in 1892 after it expired. In 1902, the Chinese Exclusion act was renewed again, this time for an indefinite period. Both pieces of legislation were passed in response to the idea that Asian immigrants posed a threat to American society.
On the West Coast, especially, Asians had been seeking their fortunes since the mid-1800s. Some of these immigrants worked hard to achieve their goals, but they were unable to become citizens or own land. They also faced discrimination from many Americans.
Despite the already severe legal and social restrictions on Asian immigration, some Americans felt that immigration should be forbidden altogether. In arguments that seem familiar to followers of the modern immigration debate, Asians were accused of taking jobs and causing social unrest. Especially in California, Asians and Chinese people in particular were already limited to living in highly dense housing clusters that were prone to fire and violence. Modern-day Chinatown in San Francisco might be a popular tourist destination, but it was once the only place in the city where Chinese people could safely live.
In the early 1920s, growing concerns about immigration from all over the world led to the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely restricted immigration by creating national quotas. The Asian Exclusion Act specifically targeted Asian immigrants, essentially guaranteeing that they would never qualify for naturalization or land ownership. Despite the restrictions of the Asian Exclusion Act, many Asians continued to immigrate into the U.S. illegally, because they felt that the country offered more opportunities than they had in their native countries.
Like other laws that focused on specific races, the Asian Exclusion Act has since been condemned by historians, lawmakers and citizens, especially people of Asian descent. It is considered to be an important part of U.S. history, however, especially because some Americans are unaware of the widespread discrimination that was faced by Asians until the middle of the 20th century. The Asian Exclusion Act also has been frequently referenced in the discussion about immigration to the U.S. in the 21st century — usually as an example of what not to do.