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By Bartee Haile

A Southern Pacific special pulled into the San Antonio train station on Jun. 15, 1917, and more than 400 Chinese nationals poured onto the platform to take a peek at their new home.

The American Punitive Expedition failed to find Pancho Villa, but the footsore soldiers did not come back from Mexico emptyhanded. Although the March 1916 attack on Columbus, New Mexico went unavenged, Gen. John J. Pershing had nearly 3,000 refugees to show for his time and trouble.

Once the Army escorted them safely across the border, the Americans and Mexicans that made up the vast majority of exiles at least had someplace to go. Not so for 427 Chinese, who under U.S. law were about as welcome as the plague.

To stem the tide of Oriental immigration, Congress took the drastic step in 1882 of slashing to zero the quota for Chinese. The ban became permanent 20 years later.


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