Sunday, April 25, 2021
Immigration Article of the Day: The War Against Asian Sailors and Fishers by Gabriel Jack Chin and Sam Chew Chin
Beginning in the 1880s, maritime unions sought federal legislation to prevent Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Asian Indian sailors from serving as crew on U.S.-Flag vessels. This campaign succeeded in mandating citizenship requirements for crews which remain in the U.S. Code today. Similarly, federal and state laws limited the ability of Asians to fish, own fishing boats, or to serve on crews of fishing vessels. Few of these laws targeted Asians by name, but legislative history and contemporary media accounts make clear that racial exclusion motivated many facially neutral requirements such as literacy tests and restriction of jobs to citizens or those who had declared their intention to become citizens. As U.S. law restricted naturalization by race from 1790 to 1952, requiring citizenship had direct racial effects—white immigrants could be fishers or sailors, but not Asian immigrants. The expansiveness of exclusionary laws across time, geography, and level of government, its use of proxy categories to achieve racial discrimination, and yet its obscurity today, suggest the comprehensive nature of racial discrimination in the pre-Civil Rights era.