From a young age my school drilled into my little gringa head the virtues of the United States and how those virtues are all wrapped up in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. I have been taught that the strength of my country and the legitimacy of my right to liberty are the results of these documents penned by the founding fathers of my country. I hear political pundits and legal eagles claim that these documents are irrefutable, unchangeable, unchallengeable. All my life I have believed that no matter how dark things may seem in my own country that, because we all have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in the end, all will come out right. Boy was this gringa wrong. All who pound their political pulpits about our nation being created and determined upon the legal foundation established by these three documents, I tell you the legal validity of these three documents was all shot to hell in 1888.
The Act of 1888, commonly called the Scott Act of 1888, was signed into law October 1, 1888, during the administration of President Grover Cleveland by the First Session of the Fiftieth Congress of the United States. It can be found in the 1064th Chapter and contains four sections that are supplemental to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which modified the terms of the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868. The Burlingame-Seward Treaty opened America’s borders to all Chinese immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited immigration of Chinese prostitutes and “coolies”, Chinese laborers who entered under a labor contract. There were many Chinese on American soil lawfully at the time the Scott Act was enacted. However, they were no longer welcome. The Scott Act of 1888 stipulates the following:
- Sec. 1 – Prohibited entry into the country of any Chinese whether a new arrival immigrant or even if a returning Chinese resident who left with legal resident status before the passage of the act and returned without knowledge that their status had changed. All Chinese with legal residence status, even if they are still within the borders of the U.S., will become illegal at the passage of this act.
- Sec. 2 – Any certificate issued according to immigration law affected by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 becomes invalid by the passing of this act.
- Sec. 3 – Taxes and penalties for violation established by past legislation remain in effect.
- Sec. 4 – Any law contradictory to this act is repealed.
In essence, the United States was making it very clear that Chinese were not welcome and were, in effect, being kicked out of the country and banned from entry. Unfortunately, there were some poor souls who departed America before the passage of this legislation and had no idea that, although they had legal resident status when they left the U.S., they would get their eviction notice when they returned. These were people who had lived and worked here for years. They had built a life here. All of their possessions were here. They had money in the bank here. And, they lost it all without any notice. I believe that to be a serious injustice executed by a country that claims to offer equality and protection to the oppressed of the world and invites them to immigrate and build a life in the great melting pot of the United States of America. What a load of horse crap. You can have the rug pulled out from under you at any time if your skin color is not the right shade or if you are practicing the wrong religion.
Eventually over 20,000 Chinese would be displaced by this law. Exiting the country with legal residence status and proper documentation, they were denied entry upon their return to the U.S. A denial that meant they lost all possessions they had accumulated during the years they had worked and contributed to the country. Another 600 Chinese had left their native country before the passage of this act. In good faith they invested an incredible amount of money and time to hazard a long and dangerous ocean voyage to work in a strange country that had given their homeland favor nation status only to arrive and have the door slammed in their face.
A prime example is the Supreme Court case Chae Chan Ping v. United States, which was decided in favor of the U.S. (big surprise) on May 13, 1889. Ping was a Chinese laborer who had been working and living in San Francisco, California from 1875 until 1887 when he left for China with the intention of returning. When he departed the United States in June of 1887, the passage of the Scott Act was well over a year away. Ping had all the legal documentation he was required to have and innocently returned in September of 1888 and was denied entry and detained aboard the ship he arrived in. He filed a lawsuit that he was unlawfully restrained and denied his liberty. The court ordered he be remanded into the custody of the shipmaster. The United States treated as a criminal a man who had abided by the law as he knew the law. A man who had worked and contributed to the growth and production of our country was treated like a criminal. Why? Because he was a Chinese who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the documents he thought provided a status that would entitle him to rights and protection had been invalidated behind his back.
A Supreme Court Justice who opined on the Chae Chan Ping case stated, “[T]he act is assailed as being in effect an expulsion from the country of Chinese laborers”. I find very troubling this reversal of section five of the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868 which established: “The United States of America and the emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects…”
If immigration was an “inalienable right” and yet was outlawed by U.S. Congress what does that mean for the security of the rest of the American population? Dictionaries define “inalienable right” as meaning a natural law and not one that can be denied by manmade law. This is how it is interpreted and applied when used with regard to the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The inalienable rights of all humanity, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, are the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Scott Act of 1888 has therefore set a dangerous legal precedence of the power the United States actually wields over what it defines as an “inalienable right”.
In 1868 the United States declared it an inalienable right of man to change his home and freely migrate where he pleases. Twenty years later, motivated by greed and racism, the United States revoked this inalienable right. The Supreme Court of the land supported the position and authority of the United States to do so. The legal precedence has been set. It is actually at the pleasure of the United States government that we get to exercise our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights can be revoked at any time the U.S. government pleases.
As I consider the fickle unfaithfulness of the U.S. government’s policies toward the Chinese, this gringa can only think, “My, my, my, how quickly we forget our roots. The Americans of 1888 obviously do not remember that they descended from uninvited guests who arrived as strangers to this country after a dangerous voyage at sea and were welcomed and fed and cared for by the natives of this land.” I look around my barrio and believe I find much more integrity, kindness and loyalty wrapped up in skin that is darker than my own. I am proud that the people of my barrio have adopted me as one of their own. In the barrio it’s not about skin color, it’s about culture. If you work hard, love greatly and help generously, you are welcome. I thought that’s how it’s supposed to be in America. Sadly, it’s not.
Understand that America is a country that conditions its people to believe the U.S. government is “by the people and for the people” and its purpose is to protect our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not. The purpose of the U.S. government is to keep the masses manageable so that the country can continue to grow richer and more powerful. If you interfere in that process, you and your “rights” will get the boot out the door.
http://everything2.com , The Scott Act of 1888
http://immigrants.harpweek.com, The Chinese American Experience: 1857-1892, Scott Act (1888)
https://supreme.justia.com, The Chinese Exclusion Case 130 U.S. 581 (1889) U.S. Supreme Court
http://dictionary.reference.com, (definition of inalienable right)
http://www.archives.gov, The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription
Photo credit: www.migrationpolicy.org