More than a century ago, a senator rose to condemn a bill that would exclude immigration based solely on one’s ethnicity:
It is impossible, it is incredible that a blow at the dignity of human nature, a blow at the dignity of labor, a blow at men, not because of their individual qualities or characters, but because of the color of their skin, should not fail to be a subject of deep regret and repentance to the American people in the nineteenth century.1
The bill was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The senator speaking in opposition to the bill was Sen. George Hoar, a Republican from Massachusetts who referred to the bill as “legalized racial discrimination.”2 Senator Hoar did not prevail. Instead, only 15 senators, all Republicans, voted against the bill.3 Republican President Chester A. Arthur vetoed the first version, but signed a subsequent version.
Senator Hoar accurately foretold the consequences of supporting this bill: a century later Congress, along with some state and local governments, expressed deep regret and repentance for its role in supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and companion discriminatory legislation. In 2011, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives unanimously passed bills apologizing for the “regrettable” passage of the Act. In 2009, the California Legislature apologized for passing racist laws targeted against the Chinese and Chinese-American community. Likewise, in August 2015, the Seattle City Council passed, and Mayor Ed Murray signed, Resolution 31605 to apologize for the discriminatory laws passed in the 1880s as companion pieces to the 1882 Act.
More than a century later, during this year’s presidential election campaign, the country has heard rhetoric and promises that echo the statements made in support of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Donald Trump, a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has promised to temporarily exclude all Muslims from entering the United States and to build a wall to prevent Mexican immigration into the United States.
These proposals should not be dismissed as campaign rhetoric; polling shows that segments of the population express overwhelming support for these ideas. History demonstrates that the politics of exclusion — both explicit and implicit — is certainly not the hallmark of one political party over the other.
Lawyers should continue to be involved and civically engaged to counter policies of exclusion. KCBA enjoys a rich history of fighting against exclusion. In acknowledgement of this rich history, to celebrate KCBA’s 130th year, on the evening of May 11 KCBA will present a special speaker presentation entitled “I Object: Attorneys Taking a Stand against Exclusion,” in which we will acknowledge ways that we, as attorneys, have stood up to and rejected exclusionary practices. Llew Pritchard will speak about immigration and legal services; Janet Chung about women’s reproductive rights; and David Perez about voting rights.
Our state and other local bar associations continue to foster a community of inclusion. Minority bar associations (“MBAs”), in particular, provide a means of inclusion. MBAs identify and address community needs for legal services by creating and supporting legal clinics. MBA attorneys volunteer at the legal clinics and many have reported feeling a sense of familial duty to the legal clinic constituents. The MBAs provide mentors and role models who help other attorneys find success by sharing their experiences as professionals and minorities in the legal community.
Our MBAs honor and recognize the historic sacrifices and heroes that have paved the way for other attorneys to follow. For example, Loren Miller was a well-regarded civil rights attorney who, with Thurgood Marshall, successfully argued Shelley v. Kramer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), in which the Supreme Court struck down racial covenants connected to real property. An Asian Bar Association of Washington (ABAW) scholarship is named after Takuji Yamashita, an attorney who was denied a bar license because of his Japanese ethnicity.
I recently had the privilege of sitting with a number of leaders of the local and national bar associations at the KCBF Breakfast With Champions: Mimi Castillo, Northwest regional governor of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA); Crystal Nam, president-elect of the Korean American Bar Association of Washington; Dainen Penta, president of ABAW; and Jamal Whitehead, immediate past-president of the Loren Miller Bar Association.
Jamal and I discussed the new legal clinic in Renton that is a partnership with the Loren Miller Bar Association and KCBA. The clinic location recognizes a shift to south King County of many people of color priced out of Seattle. Under Dainen’s leadership, the ABAW has increased opportunities for participation and guidance for solo practitioners and will also see an increase in student scholarship awards.
Crystal talked about the importance of developing mentoring opportunities and relationships, and working with other minority bar associations. Mimi shared that NAPABA was gearing up for its annual lobby day in Washington, D.C., in May during which it will honor the service of Filipino WWII veterans, address the recent and troubling anti-refugee and xenophobic sentiments, and call for the end of children representing themselves in federal Immigration Court.
I firmly believe that KCBA, our members and our sister bar associations continue to stand up to exclusionary practices. Any other course of action would certainly lead to “deep regret and repentance” in the 21st Century.
Kim Tran is the president of the King County Bar Association. She is in-house counsel with Microsoft’s Global Employment and Migration Law Group. She can be reached at 425-705-7609 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are her own and not of her employer, Microsoft.
1 See 13 Cong. Rec. 3265 (1882); Philip Chin, The Chinese Exclusion Act: Ten year Exclusion Act Debates and Passage – Part 3, Chineseamericanheros.org; Martin B. Gold, Forbidden Citizens – Chinese Exclusion and the US Congress: A Legislative History, at 202.
2 See id.
3 In 1904, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted as permanent law, Senator Hoar was the sole senator to vote in opposition. The Act was repealed in 1943 after a bill was introduced by Washington Sen. Warren Magnuson
Crystal Nam, president-elect, Korean American Bar Association of Washington;
Kim Tran, KCBA president; Mimi Castillo, Northwest regional governor, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association;
and Dainen Penta, president, Asian Bar Association of Washington, pictured at the 2016 KCBF Breakfast With Champions.