The door to the Chinese American dream was slammed shut in 1882, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act was the first significant restriction on free immigration in U.S. history, and it excluded Chinese laborers from the country under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. It also made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens by excluding them from U.S. citizenship. Chinese immigrants in the U.S. now had little chance of ever reuniting with their families, or of starting families in their new home.
For all practical purposes, the Exclusion Act, along with the restrictions that followed it, froze the Chinese community in place in 1882, and prevented it from growing and gaining U.S. citizenship as European immigrant groups did. Later, the 1924 Immigration Act would go even further, excluding all classes of Chinese immigrants and extending restrictions to immigrants from other Asian countries. Until these restrictions were relaxed in the middle of the twentieth century, Chinese immigrants were forced to live a life apart, and to build a society in which they could survive on their own.