Immigration history of Asian Americans
Asian Americans having historically been in the territory that would become the United States since the 16th century have experienced difficulties in the past in immigrating to, and becoming naturalized citizens. This article lists legislation, as well as judicial rulings, which restricted and expanded immigration from Asia.
- 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act Cessation of immigration from China.
- 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act Cessation of immigration to the U.S. from mostly Asian countries, including the region of British India.
- 1924 Immigration Act of 1924 limited quota based immigration to the U.S. started.
- 1935 Nye–Lae Bill Grants citizenship to veterans of World War I, including those from "Barred Zones".
- 1943 Magnuson Act Resumption of naturalization rights to Chinese Americans and immigration permitted from China
- 1945 War Brides Act Temporarily lifted the ban on Asian immigration for spouses and adopted children of service members.
- 1946 The Fiance's Act Allowed entrance of foreign-born fiancées of service members to enter as a nonimmigrant temporary visitor visa for three months, and were required to provide proof of valid marriage within that time frame.
- 1946 Luce–Celler Act Resumption of naturalization rights to Indian Americans and Filipino Americans. Token immigration allowed, quota set at 100 per year from India and 100 per year from the Philippines.
- 1946 Filipino Naturalization Act Allowed naturalization of Filipino Americans, granted citizenship to those who arrived prior to March 1943.
- 1952 Walter–McCarran Act Nullified all federal anti-Asian exclusion laws; allowed for naturalization of all Asians.
- 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 Elimination of racial/nationality-based discrimination in immigration quotas.
- 1989 American Homecoming Act Allowed Amerasian children from Vietnam to immigrate to the United States
- 1898 United States v. Wong Kim Ark A US-born son of Chinese immigrants was ruled to be a US citizen under the 14th Amendment; the Chinese Exclusion Act was held not to apply to someone born in the US.
- 1915 Ruling found that Filipinos can naturalize
- 1922 Takao Ozawa v. United States Japanese, despite being light-skinned, were deemed non-white, and were thereby not accorded the rights and privileges of naturalization.
- 1923 United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind Indians, despite being anthropologically Caucasian, were ruled to be non-white, and further ruled to instead be Asian, thereby subjecting them to pre-existing anti-Asian laws.
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Immigration trends of recent decades have dramatically altered the statistical composition and popular understanding of who is an Asian American. This transformation of Asian America, and of America itself, is the result of legislation such as the McCarran–Walter Act of 1952 and the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965. The McCarran–Walter Act repealed the remnants of "free white persons" restriction of the Naturalization Act of 1790, but it retained the quota system that effectively banned nearly all immigration from Asia (for example, its annual quota of Chinese was only fifty). Asian immigration increased significantly after the 1965 Immigration Act altered the quota system. The preference for relatives, initially designed to reduce the number of Asian immigrants, eventually acted to accelerate their numbers.
Historically, before 1965, Asian Americans were chiefly perceived as members of the two most numerous Asian ethnic groups, specifically Chinese and Japanese. Filipinos were increasingly numerous in the US, having become colonial subjects in 1898 due to the Spanish–American War (also see Philippine–American War).
After the enactment of the 1965 Immigration Act, Asian American demographics changed rapidly. This act replaced exclusionary immigration rules of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its successors, such as the 1924 Immigration Act, which effectively excluded "undesirable" immigrants, including Asians. The 1965 rules set across-the-board immigration quotas for each country. It opened US borders to immigration from Asia for the first time in nearly half a century.
Immigration of Asian Americans were also affected by U.S. war involvement from the 1940s to the 1970s. In the wake of World War II, immigration preferences favored family reunification. This may have helped attract highly skilled workers to meet American workforce deficiencies. Another instance related to World War II was the Luce–Celler Act of 1946, which helped immigrants from India and the Philippines.
The end of the Korean War and Vietnam War and the "Secret Wars" in Southeast Asia brought a new wave of Asian American immigration, as people from Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia arrived. Some of the new immigrants were war brides, who were soon joined by their families. Others, like the Southeast Asians, were either highly skilled and educated, or part of subsequent waves of refugees seeking asylum. Some factors contributing to the growth of sub-groups such as South Asians and mainland Chinese were higher family sizes, higher use of family-reunification visas, and higher numbers of technically skilled workers entering on H-1 and H-1B visas.
The contrasts between Japanese Americans and South Asian Americans are emblematic of the dramatic changes since the immigration reforms of the mid-20th century. Japanese Americans are among the most widely recognized of Asian American sub-groups. In 1970, there were nearly 600,000 Japanese Americans, making it the largest sub-group, but historically the greatest period of immigration was generations past. Today, given relatively low rates of births and immigration, Japanese Americans are only the sixth-largest Asian American group. In 2000, there were between 800,000 and 1.2 million Japanese Americans (depending on whether multi-ethnic responses are included). The Japanese Americans have the highest rates of native-born, citizenship, and assimilation into American values and customs.
Ethnic Chinese immigration to the United States since 1965 has been aided by the fact that the United States maintains separate quotas for Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. During the late 1960s and early and mid-1970s, Chinese immigration into the United States came almost exclusively from Taiwan creating the Taiwanese American subgroup. A smaller number of immigrants from Hong Kong arrived as college and graduate students. Immigration from Mainland China was almost non-existent until 1977, when the PRC removed restrictions on emigration leading to immigration of college students and professionals. These recent groups of Chinese tended to cluster in suburban areas and to avoid urban Chinatowns.
In 1990, there were slightly fewer South Asians in the U.S. than Japanese Americans. By 2000, Indian Americans nearly doubled in population to become the third largest group of Asian Americans, with increasing visibility in high-tech communities such as the Silicon Valley and the Seattle area. Indian Americans have some of the highest rates of academic achievement among American ethnic groups. Most immigrants speak English and are highly educated. South Asians are increasingly accepted by most Asian organizations as another significant Asian group. Currently, Indians, Chinese, and Filipinos are the largest Asian ethnic groups immigrating to the United States.
Some assert that high rates of immigration from some parts of Asia -especially those countries with poor economic bases- will make Asian Americans increasingly representative of some portion of the continent itself.
- Chinese immigration to the United States
- Filipino American Immigration History
- Indian American History and Immigration
- Japanese American Immigration History
- History of immigration to the United States
- United States Immigration Station, Angel Island
- Chin, Gabriel J., (1998) UCLA Law Review vol. 46, at 1 "Segregation's Last Stronghold: Race Discrimination and the Constitutional Law of Immigration"
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Filipino Naturalization Act grants US citizenship to Filipinos who had arrived before March 24, 1943.
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