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June 19, 2012
WASHINGTON, DC, June 19, 2012 — The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure last night that expresses regret for a series of laws that discriminated against Chinese immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Covington & Burling played a crucial role in advocating approval of the measure and a similar bill that cleared the Senate last fall.
Both bills express regret for laws passed between 1879 and 1904 that severely restricted the immigration of Chinese persons to the United States and violated the civil rights of Chinese immigrants already living in America. The centerpiece of those measures, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibited state and federal courts from naturalizing any person of Chinese descent. This denied them the ability to vote and participate in the U.S. political process.
The laws were repealed in 1943, but largely as a military measure to strengthen the China-United States alliance during World War II. The new measures attempt to recognize the civil rights violations that occurred as a result of the discriminatory laws. As expressions of Congress, the resolutions are not law and do not need to be signed by President Obama to take effect.
“By its vote to express regret for the Chinese exclusion laws, the U.S. House of Representatives helped bring closure to a dark chapter in American history and has reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to equality and the protection of civil rights,” said Martin Gold, co-chair of the firm’s government affairs practice group, who spearheaded the pro bono effort to gain congressional support over the past two years. “We are proud to assist the Chinese-American community in this cause.”
Mr. Gold counseled the 1882 Project, a coalition of Asian-American groups that includes the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, the Committee of 100, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Council of Chinese Americans and OCA. Mr. Gold is the author of a forthcoming book tentatively titled Forbidden Citizens that will detail federal statutory discrimination against the Chinese.
Covington associates Elizabeth Bell and Erica Lai worked with Mr. Gold on the initiative.