The Page Act was the first piece of American legislation to attempt to directly regulate immigration. It was aimed at the abuses surrounding Chinese immigration but in fact reflected a growing anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. It also marked a growing expansion of federal power following settlement of states’ rights issues during the Civil War (1861–65).
Tens of thousands of Chinese laborers were brought to California and the American West as a result of the gold rush (1849) and the building of the transcontinental railroad (1860s). Although the Chinese were usually considered economic assets and good residents, their growing numbers alarmed many people living in the West. In December 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant called for curbs on two outgrowths of the Chinese immigration: forced labor and prostitution. California representative Horace F. Page, a Republican, sponsored the immigration legislation enacted on March 3, 1875. Its main provision included
prohibition of contracted labor from "China, Japan, or any Oriental country” that was not "free and voluntary”
prohibition of immigration of Chinese prostitutes
exclusion of two classes of potential immigrants from all countries: convicts and women "imported for the purposes of prostitution”
Chinese women were so rigorously screened by U.S. officials in China that most wives and other nonprostitutes were prohibited from coming as well, their numbers prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act declining more than twothirds over the previous seven years. Among almost 40,000 Chinese who immigrated to the United States in the few months prior to enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act, only 136 of them were women. It is notable that in excluding convicts, an exception was made for "political offenses,” thus forming the basis of American refugee policy (see refugee status).