Reflecting a growing concern about the effects of organized labor, Congress enacted the Alien Contract Labor Act, also known as the Foran Act, on February 26, 1885. It was the first of a series of measures designed to undermine the practice of importing contract labor.
Although concern about the negative impact of contract labor had become prevalent as early as 1868, it gained new force during debate surrounding the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). In 1883 and 1884, Congress received more than 50 anticontract petitions from citizens in 13 states, as well as from state legislatures and labor organizations. The result was the Alien Contract Labor Act of February 26, 1885. Its major provisions included
- 1. Prohibition of transportation or assistance to aliens by “any person, company, partnership, or corporation. . . . under contract or agreement . . . to perform labor or services of any kind”
- 2. Voiding of any employment contracts agreed to prior to immigration
- 3. Fines of $1,000 levied on employers for each laborer contracted
- 4. Fines of $500 levied on ship captains for each contract laborer transported, and imprisonment for up to six months
Exempted from the provisions were aliens and their employees temporarily residing in the United States; desirable skilled laborers engaged in “any new industry” not yet “established in the United States”; and “professional actors, artists, lecturers, or singers,” personal or domestic servants, ministers of “any recognized religious denomination,” professionals, and “professors for colleges and seminaries.” The most commonly utilized loophole was an explicit declaration that nothing in the act should “be construed as prohibiting any individual from assisting any member of his family to migrate from any foreign country to the United States, for the purpose of settlement here.”