For almost two centuries, immigration issues have polarized American society. Five months ago, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed the bill SB1070 (Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act) into law. This law is designed to force illegal Mexican immigrants to leave Arizona. It requires police to ask the immigration status of immigrant suspects. If these suspects fail to prove that they are legal residents, the police will have the right to arrest and put them in custody. Besides, the law also punishes people who hire, transport, or shelter illegal immigrants. After Brewer’s signing of the bill, tens of thousands across the U.S. protested this immigration law. The United States Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona. This essay discusses this Arizona immigration law. The central question for this essay is; what are the similarities between the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and today’s Arizona immigration law (SB1070) in terms of why they became laws? This essay will demonstrate that both the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Arizona immigration law share many similarities in terms of why they became laws: job competition, assimilation is impossible, and immoral and criminal activities. In fact, these reasons are biased against the Chinese and Mexican immigrants, because of the following reasons: based on human rights, we have to sympathize with the immigrants; the immigrants did not have intension to threaten the status of English; there were only very small portions of Chinese and Mexicans engaged in immoral and criminal activities; the Chinese and Mexicans are not the only people engaged in immoral or criminal activities. In discussing the differences between Chinese and Mexican immigrants, the conservatives are biased and oxymoron over the issue of family unification and assimilation. Today, both the American government and the American people acknowledge that the Chinese Exclusion Act is a law of racial discrimination. Since SB1070 shares many similarities with the Chinese Exclusion Act in terms of both laws’ birth and their biases against the immigrants, the oxymoron that conservatives have, has to be opposed. SB1070 will only turn the clock back to the mid nineteenth century, the era of the discrimination against Chinese railway workers. This paper will first briefly introduce the reasons why the Chinese immigrants and Mexicans went to the U.S. Later, it will analyze the similarities between the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and today’s Arizona immigration law (SB1070) in terms of why they became laws. At the end of each issue, it will examine if the reasons that led to the birth of the two laws are biased against Chinese and Mexican immigrants and at the end, it will also recognize the differences between these two laws in terms of why they became laws.
In the mid 19th century, China suffered invasion from the western powers. Before the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, China suffered the First Opium War (1839-1842), and the Second Opium War (1856-1860). Since China was decisively defeated in these two wars, it was forced to sign unequal treaties with the Western Powers that required it to pay huge indemnity, cede territories, legalize opium, open treaty ports, hire westerners to control custom offices (with a very low tariff), allow foreign merchants and missionaries to settle in China, and allow foreigners to recruit laborers in China. Later on, other Western Powers (Germany, Russia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal and Japan saw China’s weakness and also forced China to sign unequal treaties with them. Since the Chinese people suffered a lot in these unequal treaties, a series of riots occurred. The largest riot was the Taiping Rebellion in Southern and Central China (1850-1864), in which twenty million people died. Due to the fact that China signed the unequal treaty that allowed the U.S. to recruit Chinese laborers in the treaty of Tianjin in 1858 after the Second Opium War, news spread all over that the U.S. was mining gold. This caused many tenant-farmers who had been living in hunger to migrate to the U.S.
The reasons why Mexicans come to the U.S. is mainly associated with the economy of the U.S. Approximately 60% of Mexicans are poor, lowly educated, with poor housing and medical care (the gap between rich and poor Mexicans is huge). Since Mexico has few working opportunities, the consumer prices in Mexico are higher than in the U.S, thus many people cannot survive. Mexico’s neighbor, the U.S, has become a haven for Mexicans since they have access to better housing, education, heath care, and higher wages.
After discussing this brief history of why the Chinese and Mexicans migrate to the U.S., we have to compare the similarities that are shared by both the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Arizona immigration law in terms of why they became laws. The first similarity shared by both laws is the job competition. Both the Chinese and Mexican workers are criticized for taking over Americans’ jobs. The first example to show Chinese Exclusion Act associated to jobs competition was the speech by Denis Kearney, the leader of the Workingmen’s Party in 1877. Kearney said the following in his speech:
“To add to our misery and despair, a bloated aristocracy has sent to China, the greatest and oldest despotism in the world, for a cheap working slave. It rakes the slums of Asia to find the meanest slave on earth, the Chinese coolie, and imports him here to meet the free American in the Labor market, and still further widen the breach between the rich and the poor, still further to degrade white Labor.”
Kearney said that Chinese laborers made many Americans lose jobs because Chinese workers’ wages were very low that American workers could not compete with. The second example which shows that the Chinese Exclusion Act is associated with job competition is a newspaper article by John Franklin Miller that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1876. This newspaper article reports that “the Chinese workers are responsible for the economic crisis, because they took many workers’ jobs away”. They saved money then sent it back to China which is a motive to worsen our economy and empty American treasury. They must be expelled immediately. The third example is a speech by Horace David, a congressman, in the U.S House of Representatives in 1878. David said the following:
“It is idle to say that these fields are open to all, and free competition should be the arbiter. Competition is impossible. The Chinaman has reduced the necessities of life to an absolute minimum. Without families to support, crowded together in dense masses, reducing the needs of life to a bare animal existence, they can force to the wall any other nationality and yet be rich as compared with their own condition in china. What competition is possible to the American laborer, with his wife to support and children to educate, ambitions to better his condition and afford his family reasonable comfort and enjoyment.”
David said that American workers could not compete with Chinese workers because Chinese workers could live in the poor conditions they are used to living in while in China, but American workers could not live in such conditions yet they also need to raise their children. The fourth example is a speech by Senator James G. Blaine in 1879, written to support a bill that would limit the number of Chinese passengers on any boat headed for the United States to fifteen. Blaine said the following:
“The question lies in my mind thus: either the Anglo-Saxon race will possess the Pacific slope or the Mongolians will possess it…. We have this day to choose……whether our legislation shall be in the interest of the American free laborer or for the servile laborer from China…..You cannot work a man who must have beef and bread, and would prefer beer, alongside a man who can live on rice….There is not a laboring man from the Penobscot (in Maine) to the Sacramento (in California) who would not feel aggrieved, outraged, burdened, crushed, at being forced into competition with the labor and wages of the Chinese coolly. I feel and know that I am pleading the cause of the free American laborer and of his children and of his children’s children.”
Blaine said that Chinese workers should be forbidden to enter the U.S because American workers could not compete with their low wages thus the American workers also needed to raise their children. Based on the above three passages, anti-Chinese activists argue that Chinese workers took over jobs belonging to Americans’ because they could live in poor conditions yet American workers had to raise their children. In fact, their argument that only American workers had to raise their children is biased. The reason is that Chinese workers had their families in China. Because of the Confucius values, men were responsible for maintaining their parents, wives, and children. Therefore, Chinese workers lived in poor conditions to save money and send back home to raise their families. Most Chinese workers also wished to bring their families to the U.S, so they saved money to pay for the ferry fare. We can see that not only American workers had to raise their families, but also Chinese workers did.
As with Chinese immigrants, one of the reasons behind the birth of the Arizona immigration law is job competition. The first example to show that the 2010 Arizona immigration law is associated with job competition is a speech by Arizona state representative Ted Vogt in 2009. Vogt said the following:
“The fact is that illegal immigrants take jobs from our poor and disadvantaged legal immigrants or citizens. The best way for low-skilled citizen and legal immigrant workers are the removal of the illegal immigrants……we need to enforce immigration laws and oppose amnesty for 12 million illegal immigrants. We must stand up for citizens and legal immigrants.”
Vogt said that illegal immigrants took over poor American workers’ jobs. The second example to show that the 2010 Arizona immigration law is associated to job competition is the speech by Arizona state house of Representative Andrew M. Tobin in 2009. Tobin said that 13 unions’ leaders wanted him to ask the governor to put in place more manpower in an effort to arrest illegal immigrants, as many employers prefer to hire cheaper illegal immigrants. Tobin said that illegal immigrants took over Americans’ jobs.
Based on the comparison between anti-Chinese and anti-Mexican illegal immigrant’s politicians’ words, we can see that they all argue that Chinese workers or illegal Mexican workers took over Americans’ jobs. Therefore, job competition is the common factor that made both the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Arizona immigration laws be passed. The reason why the criticism over the Chinese and the Mexican immigrants is unreasonable is that based on human rights, Americans had to show their sympathy over both the Chinese and the Mexican immigrants. For example, between 1860 and 1870, around 70,000 to 100,000 Chinese died of hunger in the Mea County, Guangdong province. This example shows why many Chinese opted to immigrate to the rest of world as they had no other choice. For the Mexicans, life in Mexico is difficult too. For example, 40% of Mexicans live under the poverty line today. Another example is that in 2007, a grilled chicken in Mexico City cost 60 Mexican Peso (equal to 5.4 U.S. dollars), at the same time, a McDonald’s Big Mac in the U.S. is 3.41 US dollars and 3.04 US dollars in Mexico, but American manufacturing worker earns 4 times the salary of a manufacturing worker in Mexico. Therefore many Mexicans live in poverty or hunger because of the high prices in Mexico. Therefore, based on human rights, Americans should not discriminate these people who need our sympathy.
The second similarity shared by both laws is xenophobia that is caused by the large scale of immigrants who concentrate together (racial ghettos) and in the event come up with their own language and culture. The Americans consider these immigrants as not wanting to be assimilated into American society or as difficult to assimilate. The first example to show that Chinese Exclusion Act is associated with the issue of assimilation is the speech by William Irwin, Governor of California, in 1878. Irwin said that:
“The Chinese are not and never can become homogenous; they are of a distinct race, of a different and peculiar civilization; they do not speak our language, do not adopt our manners, customs or habits; are Pagan in belief. They fill our prisons, asylums and hospitals; are a grievous burden to our tax-payers.”
Irwin said that Chinese immigrants had different culture, speak no English, and did not have faith in Christianity, therefore Chinese immigrants were inassimilable. The second example to show that the Chinese Exclusion Act is associated to he the issue of assimilation is the speech by California Governor John Bigler in 1852. Bigler made this speech to ask the legislature of California to pass laws to regulate Chinese immigrants, and he said the following:
“It is certain that no Asiatic has yet applied for, or has received the benefits of this Act. Indeed, I am not aware that a single subject of the Chinese Empire ever acquired a residence or a domicile in any of the States of the Union, except, perhaps, in this. In this State their habits have been migratory; and so far as I can learn, very few of them have evinced a disposition to acquire a, domicile, or, as citizens, to identify themselves with the country.”
Bigler said that Chinese immigrants were sojourners, so they did not want to settle down in the U.S. The third example is the speech of Horace David, a U.S. house of representative, in the House of Representatives in 1878. David said the following:
“The Chinese quarter of San Francisco…….To pass into this quarter from the adjoining streets is like entering a foreign country. The streets are thronged with men in foreign costume; the buildings are decorated with strange and fantastic ornaments; the signs and advertisements are in queer, mysterious characters….If you enter a house it is thronged with men; no women, no children, no family relation; everywhere crowds of men….Over against this picture I hardly need to draw that of the European immigrants. He comes to this country to settle for life and brings his wife and children along. He adopts our language, mingles with our people, and becomes an American……But with the Chinese the so-called immigration is simply an ebb and flow from the shores of Asia of a tide of men hopelessly foreign, without wish or intention to make this their home.”
David said that Chinese immigrants did not want to settle down in the U.S because they kept their culture, and that they were sojourners without their families. The above three examples show that politicians criticized that the Chinese immigrants were not assailable because they could not speak English, did not adopt American manners, and were not Christians, and were sojourners. In fact, their arguments are biased, because assimilation took time (the reasons will be discussed along with the Mexican case). Besides, as mentioned before, Chinese were not sojourners, instead they had their families in China.
As with Chinese immigrants, one of the reasons behind the birth of Arizona immigration law is the issue of assimilation. The first example to show that the Arizona immigration law is associated to the issue of assimilation is a speech by Arizona state representative Doug Quelland in 2008. Quelland said that the millions of illegal immigrants to Arizona had made many places become Mexican towns; he really was concerned about this issue because it posed dangers threatening the status of English. Similarly, state senator Al Melvin in 2009 said that Mexican immigrants liked to live together to form racial ghettos, speak Spanish, eat their Mexican food, and retain Mexican way of living. There is no sign that the Mexican immigrants are willing to assimilate into American society. Both of these examples show that anti-illegal Mexican immigrants argue that Mexicans were inassimilable because they kept practicing their own culture. In fact, their arguments are biased, because assimilation takes time (will be discussed in the next paragraph). Besides, Spanish will not challenge English’s official status (will be discussed in the next paragraph).
Americans were concerned with the issue of assimilation because they were worried that the large scale and concentration of immigrants would threaten the status of English language and American culture. Because of this point of view, both the Chinese and Mexican immigrants did not want to abandon their culture and language. In fact, the Americans are biased, because assimilation takes time. The other reason why immigrants concentrated in a particular area is that many immigrants’ English skills forbade them to work and shop outside their racial ghettos. Once these immigrants or their descendents acquired enough English language skills, they moved to other places. The immigrants safeguard their own culture, because they are born and educated in their homelands, so they have strong homeland identity. For the second and the third generation, they only inherit a little homeland traditions and consider themselves as Americans because they are born and educated in the U.S. For example, the Chinese no longer concentrate in California’s Chinatowns; instead the Chinese have spread to almost every township across the U.S. today. Another example is that over one third of Chinese Americans are Christians today. All of the above examples show that assimilation takes time. The second reason why the Americans are biased is that they wrongly consider that the immigrants would challenge the status of English. For example, although German-Americans submitted a proposal to the House of Representatives with a request to make German become an official language, they only requested for the German version of American laws thus they never requested to replace the official language of the U.S from English to German. Another example is that although Spanish is an official language in the U.S, the primary official language is English, and Hispanic Americans never requested to replace New Mexico’s official language from English to Spanish All of the above examples show that racial minorities had never intended to replace the official status of English, therefore there is nothing threatening.
The third similarity shared by both laws is their criticism over immigrants, that they engaged in immoral or criminal activities. The first example to show that the Chinese Exclusion Act is associated to immoral activities or crimes is an article published in the Daily Alta California, a newspaper in San Franciso in 1878 that cited the speech of Senator Aaron A. Sargent, a Senator from California. Sargent said that the Chinese should not be welcome because they had bad morality that operated 200 opium dens, 150 gambling stores and 105 brothels in the San Franciso region. Besides, Sargent also said that many whites visited these immoral places. The second example to show that Chinese Exclusion Act is associated to immoral activities is an article published in the New York Tribune by senator Games G. Blaine. Blaine said the following:
“If as a nation we have the right to exclude the criminal classes from coming to us, we surely have the right to exclude that immigration which reeks with impurity and which cannot come to us without plenteously sowing the seeds of moral and physical disease.”
Both of the above two examples argue that the government should forbid Chinese from coming to the U.S because they participated in immoral activities. In fact, their arguments are biased because not only Chinese did it but also other ethnic groups. (Will discuss with Mexican immigrants). Besides, those people who participated in immoral or criminal activities were only a small percentage amongst the entire Chinese immigrants’ community. (will discuss along with Mexican immigrants).
As with Chinese immigrants, one of the reasons behind the birth of Arizona immigration law is immoral activities or crimes. The first example to show that the Arizona immigration law is associated to immoral activities or crimes is the speech by Jan Brewer in April 2010. Brewer said the following in the ceremony of signing SB1070:
“I’ve decided to sign Senate Bill 1070 into law because, though many people disagree, I firmly believe it represents what’s best for Arizona. Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues to the people of our state, to my Administration and to me, as your Governor and as a citizen. There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona. We cannot sacrifice our safety to the murderous greed of drug cartels. We cannot stand idly by as drop houses, kidnappings and violence compromises our quality of life. We cannot delay while the destruction happening south of our international border creeps its way north.”
Brewer said that illegal Mexican immigrants are responsible for violence and other criminal activities. The second example to show that the Arizona immigration law is associated to immoral activities or crimes is the speech by state senator Frank Antenori in April 2010. Antenori said that:
“The biggest reason he (Antenori) supported the bill was because a rancher in one of the counties he represents was murdered by someone who crossed the U.S. border with Mexico illegally. The person of interest in the killing had crossed the border numerous times and cited other similar violent crimes. The citizens of this state are tired of the catch and release that is going on by the federal government where they grab people, they process them, and they take them back and drop them on the other side of the border. They just come back, and we have no border security down here.”
Antenori said that illegal Mexican immigrants are responsible for violence. The third example is the speech by Arizona congressman Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords said the following after Judge Susan Boltan delayed implementation of major portions of SB 1070:
“The latest chapter in what promises to be a lengthy legal fight over Arizona’s immigration law has been written. But this court battle must not be allowed to distract us from the real issue: Arizonans want our nation to control its borders and bring a halt to the violence, smugglers and drugs that threaten our communities.”
Giffords commented on Brewers’ statement which said that illegal Mexican immigrants were responsible for criminal activities (violence, drug smuggling). Based on the above examples, politicians talked about the dangers of Mexican immigrants because they would bring criminal activities (violence, drug smuggling). In fact, their arguments are biased because not only Mexicans do it but also other ethnic groups. (Will discuss in the next paragraph). Besides, people who commit immoral or criminal activities are only a small percentage in the entire Mexican immigrants’ community. (Will discuss in the next paragraph).
The reasons why the Americans dislike Chinese and Mexican immigrants is that they consider both the Chinese and Mexicans bring immoral or criminal activities to the U.S. In fact, there is only a very small portion of Chinese and Mexicans engaged in immoral and criminal activities. For example, there were 105465 Chinese immigrants in the U.S. in 1880, among them half lived in the San Francisco region, but there were only about 500 Chinese who operated gambling stores, brothels, and opium stores in the San Francisco region, and many of these stores were run by same owners. Another example is that, there were about 480,000 Hispanic prisoners in the U.S. in 2006, but there were 45 million Hispanic residents in the U.S. in 2006, therefore only a very small Hispanic population was convicted of crimes. Both of the above examples show that there is only a very small portion of Chinese and Mexican immigrants engaged in immoral or criminal activities. The second reason why some of American politicians are biased is that they wrongly considered that only Chinese and Mexicans engage in these immoral or criminal activities. For example, in the 1870s and 1880s, not only the Chinese did operate gambling stores, brothels, and opium stores, the Japanese, and white Americans also did in the San Francisco region (white Americans even widely operated these immoral stores in mining towns and cities across western states). Another example is that not only Mexicans participate in gang activities and drug smuggling, white Americans, black Americans, and Asian Americans also engage in these activities. Besides, the Hispanic only comprise 20% of total prisoners in the U.S. Both of the examples show that the Chinese and Mexicans are not the only people engaged in immoral or criminal activities.
On the other hand, there are several differences between Chinese immigrants and illegal Mexican immigrants. Firstly, the Chinese workers were sojourners, while Mexican immigrants settled down in the U.S. This is due to the geographical difference. For Chinese workers, because the fares across the Pacific Ocean were expensive, poor Chinese workers could only come alone (American capitalists pay the ferry fares for them first, and then Chinese workers’ wages were deducted to pay off their debt). Besides, Chinese workers had to save their money and work very hard for over ten years to bring their families to the U.S. Therefore, Chinese workers were sojourners. On the other hand, because Mexico is bordered with the U.S. Mexicans brought their families to settle in the U.S. As mentioned at the early part of this essay, Chinese workers were blamed as they were not willing to settle down in the U.S. Mexicans are more willing to immigrate to the U.S, but it does not mean they suffer no criticism over this issue. For examples, many politicians said that Mexicans’ high birth rate would threaten bordering regions’ American culture and language. Therefore, we can see conservative politicians’ arguments are oxymoron in the issue of family reunion. Secondly, Chinese immigrants had religious belief in Buddhism and Daoism, and they use Chinese characters. As mentioned before, William Irwin’s words that “Chinese…are Pagan in belief”, and Horace David’s words that “the signs and advertisements are in queer, mysterious characters (Chinese characters)” show that Chinese were inassimilable in terms of religion and written language. On the other hand, although Mexicans believe in Christianity and use Latin alphabets they look more “assailable” than Chinese immigrants, they still suffer criticism by conservatives. For example, many conservatives are worried about the spread of the Spanish language and the Catholic religion. Therefore, conservatives have oxymoron again in the issue of assimilation.
- Robert Backer, Immigration in America: History (New York: Lindson, 2002), 62.
- Son-Bo Chang, America in the War (Taipei: Song San, 2005), 35.
- Backer, Immigration in America, 67.
- Backer, Immigration in America, 72.
- Chang, America in the War, 51.
- How-Wang Chao, the Old Stories of the Immigrants (Taipei: Ou Cheng, 2003), 71.
- Backer, Immigration in America, 81.
- Chao, the Old Stories of the Immigrants, 92.
- John Chen, the Immigration Land (New York: Crane, 2007), 221.