In 1868, China and the United States entered into a treaty which granted China most favored nation status and encouraged immigrant labor from China, but withheld the privilege of naturalization. In 1880, the treaty was amended to suspend immigration from China, and the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 forbidding immigration of Chinese laborers. Chinese laborers who were already in the country were able to travel abroad and return so long as they obtained “Certificates of Return” prior to travel. However, enforcement of the laws was problematic, and Congress went on to invalidate the return documents. This led to about 20,000 Chinese laborers being stuck outside of the country, including Chae Chan Ping, who was stranded on a boat in the port of San Francisco.

Petitioning through a writ of habeas corpus - a recourse in law where a person can report unlawful detention - Chae Chan Ping’s case made its way to the Supreme Court, where he challenged the authority of Federal legislative and executive authorities to overturn international treaties without judicial oversight. The Supreme Court ruled that the legislature and executive had “plenary powers” (authority subject to no review or limitations upon the exercise of that power) to pass new legislation that supercedes prior treaties, and that the treaties are valid law until legislation overrides them. Since plenary power severely limit judicial oversight, this decision expanded the Federal government’s powers over immigration.


from all parts of the world

arrived in this nation,

strangers in the land themselves, and in no distant day

petitioned earnestly that immigration was a menace to our civilization;


This was never their land

"ARTICLE VII. Citizens of the United States shall enjoy all the privileges of the public educational institutions under the control of the government of China, and, reciprocally, Chinese subjects shall enjoy all the privileges of the public educational institutions under the control of the government of the United States, which are enjoyed in the respective countries by the citizens or subjects of the most favored nation. The citizens of the United States may freely establish and maintain schools within the empire of China at those places where foreigners are by treaty permitted to reside; and, reciprocally, Chinese subjects may enjoy the same privileges and immunities in the United States."

But notwithstanding these strong expressions of friendship and goodwill, and the desire they evince for free intercourse, events were transpiring on the Pacific coast which soon dissipated the anticipations indulged as to the benefits to follow the immigration of Chinese to this country.