Though Chinese immigrants only numbered around 100,000 in the 1870s, they faced discrimination as targets of a virulent bipartisan campaign for exclusion.
When Chinese immigration to the U.S. first began, Chinese men immigrated alone, coming as contract labors to work primarily in West Coast mining and transcontinental rail line [see also:Transcontinental Railroad & immigrant labor, 1862-1870] construction industries. Beginning in the 1870s, however, Chinese men began immigrating to the U.S. with their wives and children. In an effort to prevent the development of a permanent Chinese American community in the U.S., Congress passed the Page Act in 1875. Though the act’s explicit objective was to prevent women involved in prostitution—said to be threats to the health and safety of white citizens—from immigrating, it was also enforced to prevent most wives and daughters of male immigrants from entering the country.
Seven years following the Page Act, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, preventing Chinese “skilled and unskilled laborers” from obtaining U.S. visas for ten years. The first piece of legislation to ban the entry of a specific racial group, the act was renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. It was not until 1943 that the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed.