The Page Act of 1875 (Sect. 141, 18 Stat. 477, 3 March 1875) was the first restrictive federal immigration law in the United States, which effectively prohibited the entry of Chinese women, marking the end of open borders. Seven years later, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banned immigration by Chinese men as well.
The law was named after its sponsor, Representative Horace F. Page, a Republican representing California who introduced it to “end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women”. The law technically barred immigrants considered “undesirable,” defining this as a person from East Asia who was coming to the United States to be a forced laborer, any East Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country. The Page Act was supposed to strengthen the ban against “coolie” laborers, by imposing a fine of up to $2,000 and maximum jail sentence of one year upon anyone who tried to bring a person from China, Japan, or any East Asian country to the United States “without their free and voluntary consent, for the purpose of holding them to a term of service”.
Only the ban on female East Asian immigrants was effectively and heavily enforced and proved to be a barrier for all East Asian women trying to immigrate, especially Chinese women. Moreover, the Page Act created the policing of immigrants around sexuality which “gradually became extended to every immigrant who sought to enter America,” and today remains a central feature of immigration restriction, according to some scholars.
In 1875, President Ulysses Grant delivered a Seventh Annual Message to the United States Senate and House of Representatives. President Grant reaffirmed the United States bearing regarding the immigration of women originating from the Far East.
While this is being done I invite the attention of Congress to another, though perhaps no less an evil–the importation of Chinese women, but few of whom are brought to our shores to pursue honorable or useful occupations.
Ulysses S. Grant
December 7, 1875
This law prohibited the importation of unfree laborers and women brought for “immoral purposes” but was enforced primarily against Chinese. Legislated amid the spread of anti-Chinese fervor from the west coast to the rest of the United States, this law was an early effort to restrict Asian immigration without categorically restricting Asian immigration on the basis of race and instead restricted select categories of persons whose labor was perceived as immoral or coerced.
The Page Act of 1875 ( Immigration Act)
FORTY-THIRD CONGRESS. SESS. II. CH. 141. 1875. CHAP. 141.-
An act supplementary to the acts in relation to immigration.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in determining whether the immigration of any subject of China, Japan, or any Oriental country, to the United States, is free and voluntary . . . it shall be the duty of the consul-general or consul of the United States residing at the port from which it is proposed to convey such subjects . . . to ascertain whether such
immigrant has entered into a contract or agreement for a term of service within the United States, for lewd and immoral purposes; and if there be such contract or agreement, the said consul-general or consul shall not deliver the required permit or certificate.
SEC. 2. That if any citizen of the United States, or other person amenable to the laws of the United States shall take, or cause to be taken or transported, to or from the United States any subject of China, Japan, or any Oriental country, without their free and voluntary consent, for the purpose of holding them to a term of service, such citizen or other person shall be liable to be indicted therefore, and, on conviction of such offense, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars and be imprisoned not exceeding one year; and all contracts and agreements for a term of service of such persons in the United States, whether made in advance or in pursuance of such illegal importation, and whether such importation shall have been in American or other vessels, are hereby declared void.