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Covington Helps Secure Historic Senate Resolution on Chinese Exclusion

October 11, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC, October 11, 2011 — Covington & Burling recently assisted the Chinese-American community to secure a historic victory in the Senate concerning Chinese immigrants who endured decades of discrimination under federal law.

On October 6, the Senate passed by unanimous consent Senate Resolution 201, which expresses regret for a series of legislative measures 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 these measures, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibited state and federal courts from naturalizing any person of Chinese descent, thereby denying Chinese immigrants 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The laws were repealed in 1943, but largely as a military measure to strengthen the China-United States alliance during World War II, without recognizing the civil rights violations that occurred as a result of the laws. Aside from recognizing this history, Senate Resolution 201 also acknowledges the laws’ effect on the Chinese-American community.

Martin Gold, co-chair of the firm’s government affairs practice group, spearheaded the year-long effort to help gain congressional support. Covington served as pro bono counsel for 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, and that also enjoys support from national civil rights organizations.

“Our clients are immensely gratified that the Senate has recognized this history and expressed regret for such discriminatory legislation,” Mr. Gold said. “The resolution is a vivid way to bring these matters to light. We applaud all Senators for reaffirming their commitment to America’s most fundamental values.” Mr. Gold is the author of a forthcoming book tentatively titled Forbidden Citizens that will detail federal statutory discrimination against the Chinese.

The resolution received support from both sides of the aisle in both chambers. Lead sponsor Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) and co-sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced Senate Resolution 201 on May 26, 2011. The resolution was also co-sponsored by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). The resolution “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,” Senator Brown said.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) has led the effort in the House with Judy Biggert (R-IL), Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). They introduced H. Res. 282 in May. Since then, 14 other House members have co-sponsored the resolution, which is pending.

Covington associates Elizabeth Bell and Erica Lai worked with Mr. Gold on the initiative. The pro bono team will continue their efforts in connection with H. Res. 282.

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