"These were the only such laws to target a specific ethnic group," Chu said, adding that her grandfather was a victim of these laws. "The Chinese were the only residents that had to carry papers on them at all times. They were often harassed and detained. If they couldn't produce the proper documents, authorities threw them into prison or out of the country, regardless of their citizenship status."

The Chinese Exclusion Act "has never been formally acknowledged by Congress as incompatible with America's founding principles," Chu added.

Chu noted that the act was approved in the Senate by a 76-1 vote, and that Sen. George Frisbie Hoar (R-Mass.) was the only senator to stand against the bill at the time.

"What Senator Hoar stood up for is what I am asking Congress to stand up for today: that all people, no matter the color of their skin or their nation of origin, are the equals of every other man or woman," she said.