home Commentary, North America, Politics, Racism The Chinese Exclusion Act is Back, But Now It’s Called the RAISE Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act is Back, But Now It’s Called the RAISE Act

There’s no way around it: Donald Trump’s “Great America” is a “White America”. This is nothing new (for Trump or frankly, US history).

But with Trump’s ban on immigrants from largely Muslim countries, his obsession with a US-Mexico border wall, his inability to condemn white nationalists, his much vocalized belief that immigrants and people of color are violent, leeches, and “bad hombres”, and now the RAISE Act, it seems that the Trump administration is more determined than ever to dismantle any progress America has made, one immigrant at a time.

But what is the RAISE Act?

Sponsored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Senator David Perdue (R-GA), the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act is a plan that would significantly decrease immigration within the next 10 years (by 50%), put a cap on the number of refugees “admitted annually”, and do away with the Diversity Immigrant Visa program or green card lottery.

Most significantly, the RAISE act would impact families who are in the process of immigrating to the US. Currently, green card priority is given to the family members of immigrants who already reside in America. However under the Trump backed RAISE Act, adult parents, adult siblings, and adult children of US citizens or legal permanent residents would no longer be given any preference.

Immigrant and refugee families could be and will be ripped apart with entire families may be permanently alienated from each other.

Instead of giving preference to family members, the RAISE Act would adopt a merit-based system in which points would be awarded to applicants depending on education, skills, and English fluency among others. Senator Cotton and Perdue, as well as President Trump, claim that such a system would thwart the influx of uneducated and unskilled people coming into America and taking American jobs. The intended result is to create more jobs for native-born citizens.

Of course, this assumes that just because one is an immigrant and/or is sponsored by a family member that they are uneducated and/or unskilled. The RAISE Act smacks of the underlying belief that immigrants are by default a drain on the United States.

The message is loud and clear: America has to protect itself from immigrants.

Trump and his colleagues are stoking the idea that immigrants are not in fact the foundation of America, but are actively threatening to take the American Dream away from Americans – mainly through jobs. It is a racist notion built upon the belief that the (white) American is under attack.

And Trump is their savior.

But as with most things Trump says or does, the RAISE Act is not innovative, creative, or even original. American has done this before, from 1882 to 1943.

Except then it was not called the RAISE Act, but rather the Chinese Exclusion Act

Enacted in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese people from becoming United States residents or citizens. Skilled and unskilled laborers were banned, while only “merchants, scholars, teachers, missionaries, and government officials” were permitted residency. Residency, never citizenship.

Anti-Chinese sentiment was vehement. For Chinese people it was nearly impossible to find jobs outside of low-paying laundry or restaurant businesses. Even then, most Americans would note hire Chinese people, so most had to figure out a way to work for themselves in what would become America’s Chinatowns. Quite a feat considering that Chinese people were legally not allowed to own property. 

And though documented Chinese-American residents were largely sequestered off into Chinese enclaves, away from mainstream commerce, white Americans still considered them a threat. A threat to American jobs, American morals, and American prosperity.

More so, the population of Chinese people living in America was disproportionately men. This is largely due to the Page Act of 1875 that strictly limited the amount of Chinese women allowed into America for fear that they were “undesirables” or a sex worker. The wife of a Chinese man living in America was given no preference (quite the opposite), and since there was no guarantee that a he would be allowed back in after he left the country, many Chinese families were forever kept apart.

Combined with anti-miscegenation laws, keeping Chinese families separated was part of America’s thinly-veiled plan to eventually decimate the Chinese immigrant population in America. Though the plan never succeeded, entire families were splintered never to be reunited.

For generations of Chinese immigrants, that was the price of the “American Dream”. If one person from a family was able to go to America, they had to accept the very real possibility that trying to build a better life – being able to send any money home, eventually being able to bring a son over – would likely come at the cost of being with one’s family. It was a matter of survival. 

Are we ready to ask the same question of survival to immigrants now?

In Chinatowns across America during the first part of the 20th century, Chinese-American men died alone or in the company of other alienated “bachelors” wondering what became of their families back home.

Though the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, it wasn’t until the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 when the limit of immigrants from China, and other countries, was lifted and many families could finally be reunited. Part of the goal of the Immigration and Naturalization Act was to reunite families as well as bring skilled workers to the United States.

Now here we are, essentially trying to undo what progress we’ve made.

Among other immigrant groups, the RAISE Act will drastically impact Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). With one quarter of US immigrants since 1965 being of Asian birth, 67 percent of AAPIs in America being immigrants, and approximately 57 percent of permanent resident visas for AAPIs being family-sponsored, it seems America is once again targeting immigrants, demonizing people of color, and breaking up families in the name of defending American jobs.

The message the American public is being fed is that immigrants take jobs away from (white) Americans. However, in actuality data supports that immigrants and native-born citizens without higher educations do not compete for the same jobs. They are in fact complementary, not competitive.

And while more and more Americans are completing high school or going to college, the number of immigrants without high school diplomas is also growing. Fewer Americans are taking “low-skilled” jobs, leaving a gap in the job market. These are jobs that immigrants can fill. As has always been the case, immigrants take jobs that native-born Americans don’t want.

What will happen if a large part of the American work force is eliminated?

Said President Trump, accompanied by Senators Cotton and Perdue, “This legislation will not only restore our competitive edge in the 21st century, but it will restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens. This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”

Making immigrant needs a priority is putting Americans first. Americans who have immigrated from other countries shouldn’t have to make the decision between their safety and livelihood in America, or being with their family.

Immigrants, be they from China, Mexico, India, or Iran – anywhere –  should be able to trust that the American government, their government, is not searching for a loophole to get rid of them or minimize the number of people from their country.

What Trump, Cotton, and Perdue seem to forget is that immigrants are Americans. If the administration is intent on showing compassion toward struggling Americans and their families, then immigrants and their families have every right to the same treatment. 


Louise Hung

An American writer living in Japan, Louise is a contributor and researcher for the Order of the Good Death and Ask a Mortician. You can find her on Twitter @LouiseHung1.