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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 20 th 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 citizenship, " but those born in the U. S were citizens under the 14 th 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 strategy, 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 Asia, or of undesired traits meant denial of entrance ("Medical Processing", CD-Rom). Chinese immigrants also underwent detailed legal inspections. Officals questioned them about minute aspects of their lives in China, including the number of steps leading up to their houses.
Answers given by immigrants were compared with those provided by family members and friends to the same questions. Small discrepancies meant exclusion and deportation ("Interrogation", CD-ROM). To give a general idea of the structure of the interrogation, an inspector gave a brief description of the line of questioning he took: He started by getting the data on the applicant himself: his name, age, any other names, and physical description. Then we would ask him to describe his family: his father - his boyhood name, marriage name, and any other names he might have had, his age and so forth.
Then we would go down the line: how many brothers and sisters described in detail - names, age, sex, and so forth. Then we would have to go into the older generations: paternal grandparents; then how many uncles and aunts and they had to be described. Then the village: the district, how many houses it was composed of, how arranged, how many houses in each row, which way the village faced, what was the head and tail of the village. Then the next door neighbors. Then describe the house: how many rooms and describe them What markets they went to. Find out about the father's trip: when he came home, how long was he home, did he go to any special places, and describe the trip from his village to Hong Kong (Lai 112).
Therefore it is clear that there was a semi-rigid structure to the line of questioning that the inspectors took. However, within the interrogation structure, inspectors were free to deviate and ask about anything that they felt might elucidate the true status of the immigrant. In the end, applicants were usually asked around two to three hundred questions, but in some cases were asked upwards of a thousand (Chen 107). After interrogating the witness, the board usually sought out other witnesses.
These extra witnesses were usually composed of family members or business partners. Often times white witnesses would be brought in to testify for the Chinese immigrant in question. Usually the questions reserved for these white witnesses were notably shorter than the questions asked of Chinese spouses or relatives. After taking the statements of relatives and acquaintances, interrogators brought the immigrant back in and began to examine and further question slight contradictions in statements between family members and the immigrant. "It is suggested that the examining officer closely follow the examination already conducted, clearly developing any variations which may appear" (Letter from immigrant inspector to Commissioner of Immigration). The time it took to take the testimonies of all parties involved usually ranged from three to four days. The length of the interrogation was exacerbated if the family members were located in some eastern city such as Chicago or New York.
In these cases it was necessary to correspond back and forth and have family members or other available witnesses provide testimony to the Immigration Service offices in those cities and transmit the files back to San Francisco (Clauss 65 - 66). The collective testimony was anywhere from twenty to eighty pages depending on the case but usually averaged forty or fifty pages of typed testimony (Chen 107). By this time if a decision by the board could still not be reached the case would be suspended for ten days, in which more data would be gathered. In this period, letters from acquaintances might be gathered from members of the community who knew the family of the immigrant. These acquaintances would testify to the fact that, indeed the family was expecting a member to arrive on a certain day on a certain ship. However, more importantly, these letters often spoke of the family's good standing in the community.
These letters usually written by white businessmen, were written in the hopes that the board would be convinced of the status of the immigrant and allow that person to land. The underlying tone of the message, however, was one of recommendation. The white man was vouching for the Chinese family in these letters, stating his personal knowledge about the family. It was not sufficient for the Chinese family to state that in fact they were expecting relatives to arrive in America. The board required a more trustworthy source - which meant a white man.
These letters usually extolled the virtues of the Chinese citizen such as honesty and many times Christianity, which were held in high regard by a white America and especially a white Special Board of Inquiry. After all the supplemental information, including the "letters of recommendation, " was received and reviewed a decision was made. If the decision was admittance, the detainee was allowed to land at once. However, if the decision was deportation, the detainee had five days to protest this decision. His or her case would be retried and he or she would be re interrogated.
These appellate's however, had to stay on Angel Island while awaiting for their appeal hearing. It was here that some would stay in upwards of two years, waiting to hear from the board (Clauss, 50). What is most striking about this however, is that the final decision of allowing Chinese into the country was based not so much on the word of the Chinese family as it was on a "trustworthy" white man. The immigration and naturalization service clearly knew that many Chinese immigrants were using false claims to gain entrance into the United States. Inspectors were already aware of the fact that many of the Chinese entrants after 1906 were fraudulent. .".. many Chinese began to return to this country and they claimed to be coming back as natives.
As a matter of fact, it would have been humanly impossible for most of them to be citizens because there were not many Chinese women over here" (Lai 112). A second reason why the Chinese were interrogated was due to the fact that the new immigrants were all alleging that they were actually citizens or potential citizens, rather than aliens. Therefore the immigration station had to test the validity of these claims of citizenship stat...
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