'Apologizing for America': Finally the Parties Can Agree!

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As I mentioned late last night, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for the discriminatory nature of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Here is a late 19th century cartoon that conveys the general tenor of the Act. You can read the text of the Act here and also get the idea. Memories of the era are kept alive in China, which is why the apology resolution got so much attention and acclaim in the Chinese press this week:

ce_witness_2_lg.jpg

The resolution of regret was passed by the current U.S. House of Representatives: John Boehner, speaker; Eric Cantor, majority leader; and all members of their 50-seat Republican majority.

I think this vote made very good sense, and I am glad to see the Republican majority expressing remorse for a past American mistake. I know there will be discussion about "apologizing for America" in the upcoming GOP convention, and I'm sure it will focus on this measure.

On the further history of the topic and implications for today's immigration debates, the immigration scholar Benjamin Railton writes in to say:

I also just wanted to note that the CEA wasn't just the first restriction on immigration; it was the first immigration law period (this is the first of the three things in my book, the specific histories of immigration laws and lack thereof in America).

Prior to that, every immigrant was neither legal nor illegal, as there were no laws that applied to them. And even from 1882 to 1921, every immigrant not covered by that law (so basically any non-Chinese and eventually non-Asian immigrant; nor covered by the 1875 Page Act, which restricted only prostitutes and convicted criminals) was still neither legal nor illegal, as they continued to fall under the jurisdiction of no law.

I think this information makes a big difference, since so many of our arguments about immigration include the phrase "My ancestors came here legally" (meaning that they chose to follow the law), and it's almost always entirely untrue.
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* I don't know the original source of the cartoon; I saw it here.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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