The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution Monday decrying a law -- more than a century old -- that prevented Chinese people from immigrating to the United States.
The resolution, approved by the Democratic-led Senate in October, voices 'regret' for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese workers from further immigration and barred existing residents from naturalization and voting.
The Act lasted for roughly six decades, and marked the first and only time the United States federal government explicitly rejected an immigrant group on the basis of their origin.
"Today (is) a rare moment in history for the Chinese American community," said Representative Judy Chu, the Democratic head of the US Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
Chu proposed the legislation and reached an agreement with the rival Republican Party to bring the resolution to a vote today.
"Today, the House made history when both chambers of Congress officially and formally acknowledged the ugly and un-American nature of laws that targeted Chinese immigrants."
Census figures show that over 100,000 ethnic Chinese lived in the United States around the turn of the 19th century. Many were recruited from China "to work as cheap labor to do the most dangerous work laying the tracks" on the transcontinental railroad, said Congressman Mike Honda, immigration task force chair of the CAPAC.
Honda added that the early Chinese-American immigrants "strengthened our nation's infrastructure, only to be persecuted when their labor was seen as competition and the dirtiest work was done."
The US Congress only repealed the Exclusion Act after Japanese wartime propaganda cited the law to question China's alliance with the United States.
"To have moral authority around the world, we must speak out against prejudice at home," said House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, a major center of the Chinese-American community since some of the earliest immigrants arrived in the 1800s.
"Though this legislation cannot erase the deeds of the past, it reiterates our commitment to equal rights for all Americans, regardless of race, now and in the future," Pelosi added.
When the bill voicing regret for the 1882 Act passed in the Senate, it was made clear that legislation would not open the way for compensation claims from Chinese-American families affected by the act.
Some 14.7 million people, 4.8 percent of the total US population, self-identified as Asian on the 2010 Census.