History of the Federal Judiciary

History of the Federal Judiciary

  Chew Heong v. United States: Chinese Exclusion and the Federal Courts
Historical Documents

Laborer’s return certificate: Chae Chan Ping

The return certificate lay at the heart of the dispute in the Chew Heong case. It was one of several types of documents devised by the U.S. government to identify Chinese who were exempt from the exclusion laws. The return certificate verified that a Chinese laborer had resided in the United States before the exclusion policy was adopted and provided identifying information. The resident laborer who left the United States for travel abroad presented the certificate to the collector of the port upon returning to the United States. For those, like Chew Heong, who left before the certificates became available, the federal courts ruled these Chinese could present other evidence to establish that they had lived in the United States and had a right to reenter. Others used forged or transferred certificates to gain illegal entry.

Frustrated by both continued legal and illegal immigration by Chinese, Congress in the Scott Act of 1888 forbade the further entry of any Chinese laborers and declared all return certificates void and of no legal use. Chae Chan Ping, already en route to the United States when the Scott Act was passed, fell subject to the new law. His return certificate was declared null and void and his appeal to the Supreme Court failed in the landmark case Chae Chan Ping v. United States (also known as The Chinese Exclusion Case, 130 U.S. 581 [1889]).

[Document Source:
In re Chae Chan Ping, No. 10100, October 11, 1888, U.S. Circuit Court for the Northern District of California, Records of the District Courts of the Untied States, RG 21, National Archives, Pacific Coast Region, San Bruno, Cal.]


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