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Senate apologizes for discrimination against Chinese immigrants

October 7, 2011 | 11:51 am

The U.S. Senate has approved a resolution apologizing for the nation's past discriminatory laws that targeted Chinese immigrants, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The resolution passed Thursday night, by unanimous consent, "cannot undo the hurt caused by past discrimination against Chinese immigrants, but it is important that we acknowledge the wrongs that were committed many years ago," said Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), the lead sponsor.

Judy Chu A similar resolution, sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-El Monte), the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress, is pending in the House. It is backed by members of both parties.

For Chu, the effort to get Congress to acknowledge the discrimination is personal; her grandfather faced the hostile laws.

"He decided to make something of his life anyway.  He opened up a small Chinese restaurant in Watts, and worked day and night and he was finally able to make ends meet," Chu said Friday. "The thousands of Chinese Americans around this country with similar family histories will celebrate the passage of the Senate resolution."

The Chinese Exclusion Act effectively halted Chinese immigration for a decade and denied U.S. citizenship to Chinese immigrants in the country. The law was repealed in 1943 after China became a U.S. ally in World War II.

But Chu said that Congress has never apologized for the injustice.

Brown took up the issue after hearing about how another Massachusetts senator, from the 19th Century, led the fight against the discriminatory laws, an aide said.

Congress has issued apologies before.

In 1988, President Reagan signed legislation providing $1.25 billion, or $20,000 each, in reparations and a formal apology for Japanese Americans interned during World War II. No reparations are offered in the measures apologizing for discrimination against Chinese immigrants.

In 2008, the House issued an apology to African Americans "on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow." The Senate passed a similar resolution a year later.

In California, the Legislature in 2009 passed a resolution apologizing for the state’s discrimination against Chinese immigrants.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a cosponsor of the U.S. Senate resolution, said Friday she hopes the resolution will serve to "enlighten those who may not be aware of this regrettable chapter in our history and bring closure to the families whose loved ones live through this difficult time.''

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 -- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: U.S. Rep. Judy Chu has sponsored a similar resolution in the House. Credit: Associated Press

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