Asiatic Exclusion League

Identification: Organization whose goal was to stop all Japanese immigration to the United States and disrupt the lives of Japanese already residing in the United States
Date: Operated from May 14, 1905, until after World War II
Location: San Francisco, California
Also known as: AEL
Significance: The Asiatic Exclusion League concentrated on opposing Japanese immigration, but it was against the immigration of all Asians, including Koreans and Hindus from India. It opposed Chinese immigration, too, but Chinese immigrants were already effectively blocked from entering the United States during the early twentieth century. By constantly reinforcing negative stereotypes of Japanese as “coolies” who threatened the American way of life, the league contributed to the passage of anti-Japanese legislation at the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941.
The Asiatic Exclusion League was a white supremacist organization active along theWest Coast of the United States and Canada through the early twentieth century. Its supporters were primarily Englishspeaking labor union members who opposed all forms of Asian immigration because of the downward pressure on wages that Asian immigrants caused.Wage preservation was the reason most often cited for the need to restrict Asian immigration. The vast majority of Asian immigrants were unskilled laborers who did not speak English and could not qualify for labor union membership. They consequently would have had only a minimal impact on union wages.
The AEL was actually a latecomer in a series of anti-Asian immigration bodies and movements. The AEL feared massive Asian immigration, due to real or imaginary problems of social integration, language and cultural barriers, increased crime, and depressed wages. Tacitly understood among the various anti-Asian groups was the idea that America and its opportunities should be reserved for peoples of European descent, preferably English- speaking peoples.
Anti-Asian sentiment had long played a role in American politics, beginning with various pieces of legislation such as the Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888, which severely restricted new Chinese immigration, and the Geary Act of 1892, which prohibited all Chinese immigration for a period of ten years and required all Chinese residents in the United States to carry residency permits at all times or face immediate deportation. Anti-Chinese initiatives were on the AEL agenda, but the group’s main targets were Japanese and Korean immigration. The Asiatic Exclusion League later expanded its definition of Asian to include Hindus from India, and it regarded all Asians as “coolies.”
Although AEL membership comprised mainly labor union members and leaders, the organization was influential at the state level, particularly in California, whose state attorney general argued in favor of laws to prohibit Asians from owning property and mandated that Asian children should attend segregated public schools. The Asiatic Exclusion League also lobbied successfully on the national level, finding members of Congress willing to vote against legislation that would ease existing restrictions on Asian immigration. One particularly vehement anti- Asian congressman was E. A. Haynes of California, who denounced Japanese immigration as an evil influence.
After an earthquake devastated San Francisco in 1906, real estate agents and bankers banded together to help residents rebuild. Newspapers carried advertisements with designations as places where only white residents would be allowed to build homes and own property. These advertisements guaranteed that no Asians, no saloons, and no cheap apartments would be allowed in or near white-only residential districts. Around this same time, Asians were blamed for rising crime rates in West Coast cities because of their opium smoking and other drug crimes that were blamed on Asians.
The AEL helped pressure the U.S. Congress to ask President Theodore Roosevelt to restrict all Japanese immigration from Hawaii territory in 1907. The Immigration Act of 1924, signed by President Calvin Coolidge, restricted Japanese immigration to the United States from any location. Japanese immigrants already living in the United States were denied the option of applying for U.S. citizenship—a ban that lasted until after World War II. Meanwhile, the unprovoked Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, galvanized long-standing American animosity against Asian immigrants, particularly Japanese living along theWest Coast. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s February, 1942, Executive Order 9066, directing that all Japanese and Japanese Americans living on the West Coast be removed to intern camps, was the logical culmination of decades of Asiatic Exclusion League campaigns against the presence of the Japanese in the United States.
Federal government discrimination against persons of Japanese descent continued until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an immigration reformbill that granted persons of Asian ethnicity equal standing with those of European descent for immigration purposes.
Victoria Erhart

Further Reading
  • Hyung-chan, Kim. Asian Americans and Congress: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Provides an analysis of U.S. policies on Asian immigration from 1790 to the 1990’s. Discusses general stereotypes Americans held about Asians, and how those stereotypes influenced specific pieces of legislation restricting Asian immigration.
  • Ingram, W. Scott. Japanese Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2004. Young-adult book that focuses on when and why Japanese immigrants came to the United States. Also covers the history of attempts by Japanese to assimilate into American society and the legal and social discrimination they faced.
  • Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. Very readable history of Asian Americans by a leading Japanese American scholar that draws upon a variety of primary sources, from newspapers to court cases.
  • Teitelbaum, Michael. Chinese Immigrants. New York: FactsOnFile, 2004. Young-adult book that traces the history of Chinese immigration to the United States. Includes a time line of immigration events as well as U.S. legislation relevant to Asian immigration. Also touches on the role Chinese and Chinese Americans play in current U.S. economy and politics.
  • Tichenor, Daniel. Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. Comprehensive history of U.S. immigration policy that highlights shifts in restrictionist policies.
See also: Alien land laws; Anti-Chinese movement; Anti-Japanese movement; Asian American Legal Defense Fund; Asian immigrants; Asiatic Barred Zone; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Gentlemen’s Agreement; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese immigrants.

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