The Law: Federal legislation designed to limit Chinese immigration to the United States
Date: Became law on May 5, 1892
Significance: Enacted to reinforce and extend provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Geary Act prevented further immigration from China and required established Chinese residents of the United States to carry certificates of residence. The act grew out of an assumption that low-wage Chinese laborers were responsible for the economic downturn in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, put a ten-year federal moratorium on the immigration of Chinese laborers, and increased restrictions on Chinese immigrants already living in the United States. When the act expired in 1892, a new bill was proposed by California Democratic congressman Thomas J. Geary. Geary’s bill extended the immigration moratorium for ten additional years and required existing Chinese immigrants to obtain official certificates of residence from the Internal Revenue Service. Immigrants found without these certificates faced up to one year of hard labor followed by deportation. Bail was not permitted for immigrants arrested for being in the country illegally, and only a “credible white witness” could testify on behalf of an accused Chinese immigrant. The Geary Act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893, in Fong Yue Ting v. United States. In 1902, the act was extended indefinitely, but Congress eased restrictions during the 1920’s and finally removed them in 1943.
Cynthia A. Bily
See also: Asian immigrants; Asiatic Exclusion League; Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese immigrants; Congress, U.S.; Deportation; Fong Yue Ting v. United States; History of immigration after 1891; Mc- Creary Amendment of 1893.