BY LYNN EDMONDS
Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims harkens back to an earlier period in the country’s history, when Chinese immigrants were barred from the country, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama on June 16.
“The parallels with our present are striking and prescient,” Kim wrote. “In the twenty-first century, new voices have emerged seeking to sow hatred and division within our nation, to demonize other ethnicities, and to again call for the total ban of an entire group of immigrants based on faith or country of origin.”
Kim called on Obama to issue an apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act, legislation that systematically excluded Chinese Americans from 1882 until 1943, on behalf of the federal government. Part of Kim’s goal – for an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the Whitehouse to Trump’s idea to ban Muslims – is on the wrong side of history.
“We believe in a nation that learns from the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” Kim said in a statement.
Until today, Chinese individuals are the only national group that has been explicitly and entirely banned from immigrating to the United States. Throughout the ban, high volumes of individuals from other countries were able to enter and leave the United States.
The Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Geaery Act, which followed it, froze the lives of Chinese Americans already in the country, when it came to everything from starting a family to economic survival – let alone success. It also blocked any eventual pathway to citizenship and prohibited the Chinese population, which strongly skewed male, from marrying white women and owning land.
Twenty additional legislators signed on to Kim’s letter, including Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows).
“The Chinese Exclusion Act stems from a place of ignorance and hatred that has no place in today’s society,” Rozic said. “While some seek to divide us, it is critical that we stand united in denouncing hatred and prejudice.”
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) called the Chinese Exclusion Act a “stain on the legacy of our country,” adding that “it still feels relevant today.”
“While we cannot erase the past, we can correct it. We must learn from our mistakes as a nation and not risk making the same ones again in the future,” she said.
The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate issued an official apology in 2011.