Why Is the GOP Honoring the Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act?

Wednesday was the 70th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

By Julianne Hing Dec 18, 2013

Who knew the GOP cares about the shameful legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act? The short answer: when votes are at stake. In a video House Republicans released Wednesday, six lawmakers–Reps. Lynn Jenkins, Jeff Denham, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Renee Ellmers, Cynthia Lummis and Frank Wolf–honored the 70th anniversary of the repeal of the nation’s first immigration law to single out for exclusion a single ethnic or racial group. But there’s no mention of that history in the video.

Instead, they offer stock platitudes. "Today we honor and recognize the hard work and perseverance of the Chinese-American community across the nation…as we continue to build on our shared goal of an America that is rich in opportunity and freedom," lawmakers say in the video. 

Ros-Lehtinen and Denham did sign on this fall to a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but don’t mistake the video for a change of heart in the party’s current stance on immigration either. Count it as just the most recent in a line of Republicans’ not-so-secret overtures to Asian-American voters. Earlier this year, the GOP issued a public statement recognizing Diwali, the Los Angeles Times reported.

To Republicans, Asian Americans are an especially attractive but elusive voting bloc. They’re not only the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, they’re seen as a natural fit for the Republican party. Some segments of the Asian-American population are comparatively wealthier than other racial groups in the U.S. and are seen as fiscally and socially conservative. But it hasn’t translated into votes. In the 2012 election, 77 percent of Asian-American voters voted for Barack Obama, and support for the Democratic president swung upwards of 95 percent for some segments of the population. It turns out that Asian-American voters care deeply about immigration, and are paying attention to how both parties handle the issue.