Because of severely restrictive and discriminatory Federal immigration laws (e.g.,
the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), many persons of Chinese ancestry born abroad were
able to enter the U.S. only by assuming fictitious identities.
Chinese immigrants who entered the U.S. before the passage of the Exclusion Act could
remain; however, their families could not join them and, if they left the U.S., they
could not reenter. Persons of Chinese ancestry who had been born in the U.S. could
leave and reenter the U.S., but their spouses could not join them. Children of such
individuals (and certain classes of individuals not born in the U.S., such as professionals,
students, authors, artists, etc.) could enter the U.S. if unmarried and under age
16. Merchants were excepted from the general rule and could bring in unmarried children
under age 21. Individuals in the excepted groups were required to prove their exempt
status each time they entered the U.S. and to retain this status while in the U.S.