Angel Island • Angel Island is the largest island in the San Francisco Bay. • It has a long history & has been used by the U.S. government for many different things.
Uses of Angel Island • During the Civil War, the U.S. government turned the island into a fort to defend San Francisco from a possible Confederacy attack. • But the attack never happened. • During the Spanish-American War (1898) it was used as a detention camp for captured prisoners.
A Quarantine Station • In the 1890’s Angel Island was used as a quarantine station for ships arriving from Asia with trade goods. • Ships stopped at the island to be inspected (both cargo & people) and if necessary disinfected before coming to port in San Francisco—prevent diseases from coming into the country.
Ayala Cove where the quarantine station was located and travelers waiting to be disinfected and fumigated.
During the World Wars During both World Wars, the island was used as a POW (Prisoner of War) camp. And during WWII it was also used as a processing center for the military.
Immigration Station But Angel Island is best known as the home of the Angel Island Immigration Station.
Angel Island Immigration Station • The Immigration Station operated from 1910 to 1940. • It was the main entry point into the U.S. for people arriving from the Pacific routes. • China, Japan, Korea • More than 1 million people were processed at the station.
Angel Island vs. Ellis Island Angel Island is often called the “Ellis Island of the West,” but this is not accurate. • Major differences in the missions of the two immigrant stations. • Ellis Island welcomed immigrants into the U.S. and the vast majority of those arriving were process and “landed” immediately. • On Angel Island, many immigrants (mostly the Chinese) were NOT welcomed at all and were allowed in the country only after strife and struggle.
Reasons for Chinese Immigration The Chinese were drawn to the U.S. for many reasons: • Initially for the Gold Rush to California. • Then, to work as inexpensive laborers on the transcontinental railroad. • Then, to work in the mines of the west. • They also came to escape dire living conditions under their government and later escape the Japanese invasion of China.
Anti-Immigration America • Many American-born workers viewed the Chinese laborers as competition for jobs. • In the 1870’s an economic depression hit the U.S. which caused anti-Chinese sentiment to increase.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 • In response to public opinion, Congress passed exclusion laws that specifically targeted the Chinese. • Congress issued the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. • Banned entry to the U.S. for all Chinese except those who were U.S. citizens (born in U.S.), children of a U.S. citizen, or a spouse of a U.S. citizen. • Also stated that students, teachers, merchants, tourists, and governmental officials were permitted.
Results of the Exclusion Act • Many Chinese already living in the U.S. were deported. • This Act was extended another 10 years in 1892 and again in 1902, and wasn’t repealed until 1943.
Chinese laborers legally residing in the U.S. had to obtain certificates of residence that offered proof of their legal status.
Overcoming Exclusion • The next major event that affected Chinese immigration was the great fire that struck San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. • In the fires, all birth certificates and citizenship records kept by the city were destroyed.
The Aftermath of the Quake & Fire • Amongst all of the chaos, many Chinese claimed that they had been born in the U.S. and that there birth certificates had been destroyed in the fire. • This gave way to the “paper son” and “paper daughter” industry for Chinese Immigration.
“Paper Sons & Daughters” • Paper sons and daughters were individual who attempted to immigrate to the U.S. by claiming to be children of Chinese American citizens with false papers. • For a fee (very expensive!), you could buy papers that would authenticate this claim.
Immigrants leaving ship in harbor to go to Angel Island Immigration Station circa 1925
The U.S. Government Responds • The U.S. Immigration Service decided this must be stopped. • Decided to detain Chinese immigrants in order to question them, their alleged parents, witnesses, and other parties involved in order to determine if their claims were valid. • Immigrants were questioned at great length and detail.
The Interrogation • Immigrants were asked for specific details about their parents, grandparents, and siblings. • As well as about their life in China—their homes, villages, etc. • Then the same questions were asked to the alleged parents, grandparents, etc.
If the answers matched then they must be true relatives. If they did not match, the prospective immigrants were deported.
Interrogations could take days, months, and in some extreme cases up to 2 years!! And even then, after all that, the immigrant could be denied entrance!
Medical Examinations • Chinese immigrants were also forced to endure extensive medical examinations. • This could be humiliating, especially for the women—being stripped naked, jabbed, and examined by white doctors. • Exams were also painful.
Coaching Papers • Paper sons and daughters were often given “coaching papers” to memorize before their interrogation at Angel Island. • These papers were very detailed and usually immigrants were given these papers months in advance to begin memorizing. • These papers were illegal; therefore, had to be kept secret.
Two immigration officers processing papers for one Asian man and several Asian women, circa 1925.
Life at the Immigration Station • Waiting immigrants were housed in barracks separated by sex. • Husbands and wives were not allowed to see one another. • Living conditions were harsh—crowded, unsanitary, etc.
Bunk beds stacked 3 high and 2 across • (70-150 people per room). • Bathrooms were open. • There was little to no privacy!
Fears of Escape?? • Detainees were held locked in the barracks for significant amounts of time because of Immigration Service fears that they would escape. • Women were allowed walks around the island once a week. • Men had to remain in the fenced yard—surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards posted in border towers who were ordered to shoot if there were any attempts of escape.