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Interrogations of Chinese Immigrants at Angel Island
Like Ellis Island in New York Harbor, Angel Island in San Francisco Bay was an entry point for immigrants in the early 20th century. The Angel Island immigration station processed small numbers of immigrants from Japan, Italy, and other parts of the world and was the key place of interrogation and detention for immigrants from China ("Angel Island Over View, CD-ROM). Angel Island in 1910 to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 and renewed in 1892 and 1902. Despite Chinese contributions to building the American West before 1880, the U.S. enacted laws prohibiting the migration of Chinese laborers after 1882 and accepting only merchants, teachers, students, and the families of American-born Chinese. These were then 105,465 Chinese in the country, mostly in California. Under the Naturalization Law of 1790, Chinese immigrants were considered "aliens ineligible to cintizenship," but those born in the U.S were citizens under the 14th amendment. Modeled in its procedures on Ellis Island, Angel Island was an outpost to sift the migration stream but also a barrier to bar Chinese save those who fit the exempt categories or were related to U.S citizens ("Angel Island Overview", CD-Rom).
Chinese immigration, after being shut down for many years by governmental legislation and an anti-Chinese climate resumed quickly after 1906. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed most immigration records in the city, allowing many resident Chinese to claim U.S citizenship and many others to claim to be "paper sons." Chinese Americans who returned from visits home and reported births of sons and daughters thereby created slots, which were often used to bring in immigrants who masqueraded as sons or daughters. By this strategem, thousands of Chinese skirted intended American exclusion ("Male Detainees at Angel Island", CD-Rom). These paper sons and paper merchants increased the number of Chinese immigrants by an unbelievable rate. It was this supposed population explosion that would lead the United States to investigate all incoming Chinese immigrants. Being wary of the impossibility of so many legitimate children of U.S. citizens of Chinese descent, the department of immigration and naturalization sought out to verify that these people were indeed the true sons and daughters or the actual businessmen that they claimed to be. Therefore it was against this historical background and under these particular auspices that the interrogations at Angel Island were carried out from 1910 to 1940. These interrogations were by no means fair, nor were they based on any other legal or practical precedent.
While unreasonable detentions were already the norm, the act of interrogating immigrants to the extent that the Chinese were interrogated was unheard of in history. These interrogations were intricate and detailed, and designed to ensnare unwitting Chinese immigrants seeking entrance into the United States. The interrogations not only presented a hurdle for incoming immigrants by prolonging their detention at Angel Island and increasing the bureaucracy required to process Chinese immigrants, but would deeply scar the Chinese landing in the United States. Moreover, the traumatic experiences at Angel Island coupled with other practices following the detentions such as raids of Chinatown during the Red Scare of the 1950\'s led to a persistent fear of deportation by landed Chinese. The interrogations were more than just simple interview questions about one\'s village or parents, rather they were, taken as a whole, another method to exclude the Chinese from America.
The entire interrogation was loosely structured, but by no means were they regular or fair. After being held at Angel Island on a writ of habeas corpus, Chinese immigrants were interrogated by a Board of Special Inquiry which was composed of two inspectors, one of which was the Chairman of the Board, a stenographer, and finally an interpreter. This board was not held to technical rules of procedure or evidence as used in other federal courts but rather was allowed to use any means it deemed fit under the exclusion acts and immigration laws to ascertain the applicant\'s legitimacy to enter the United States (Lai, 20).
Like immigrants at Ellis Island, immigrants at Angel Island were put through inspections were more difficult, often extending over several days ("Angel Island Barracks", CD-ROM). Immigrants at Angel Island underwent stringent exams and rigorous interrogations. Any signs of communicable diseases like trachoma or hookworm, both common in
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Geography of the United States, United States, Geography of New York, Paper sons, Chinese Exclusion Act, Angel Island Immigration Station, Ellis Island, Illegal immigration, Overseas Chinese, Sinophobia, Chinatown, Manhattan, Chinese emigration
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