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Interrogations Of Chinese Immigrants At Angel Island

.. with particular scrutiny. These interrogations were particularly strenuous and the questioning extremely detailed. Examples abound of tricky questioning such as this line of questioning from docket #19431/1-2 (Box 1211 National Archives): Q. What is his occupation? A. I do not know.

Q. Did he tell you what his occupation was? A. I did not ask him and he did not tell me. Q. Did he tell you he was a business partner of your husband? A.

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Yes; he said he was in business with my husband, and that when he departed he left the business with my husband. Q. Why a moment ago, did you state that you did not know what the native of the nature of the business was? (67). As demonstrated in this excerpt, interrogators asked questions even after one had said no, or stated that they did not know. In this way they could catch contradictions when they finally answered the same question phrased in a different form. From here they could further question immigrants on why they did not answer the same question the first time.

This type of questioning was extremely common for those claiming to be sons or daughters of U.S. citizens or partners in a business. In this sample we see again the motive of the interrogation: to trick Chinese immigrants into contradicting themselves and thereby give sufficient reason to have them deported. The usual response to why immigrants had answered wrong was that they did not understand the interpreter the first time. Other interesting excuses were often given, usually stating that the person testifying was extremely nervous.

On several occasions, letters were sent to the Board of Special Inquiry by people who had testified, trying to explain a blunder or a hesitation in their testimony as being caused by an accident on the way to Angel Island causing them to be nervous or a sickness in which they were extremely tense and could not think or concentrate on the questions. The lapses in memory usually occurred because of the copious amounts of information many of these immigrants had to memorize from their coaching books. The validity of the excuses cannot be ascertained, but it was more than likely that many of the excuses and letters written to the Board of Special Inquiry attempted to concoct an illness or an accident in which to explain their failure during the testimony! . Certainly some of the claims such as misunderstanding the interpreter might have been genuine and there was a definite, palpable anxiety for immigrants before entering an interrogation. However, many of these excuses were used when there were major contradictions dealing with obscure information during the interrogation.

It seems unlikely that a sudden bout of illness or anxiety would lead an immigrant to remember every other minute detail about his or her life but forget one and then have the presence of mind to remember that question from the interrogation to write about it in a separate letter. Therefore, the letters and excuses were probably more often used to cover up mistakes made in the interrogation rather than to explain real events causing anxiety or memory loss. There were usually only a few good reasons why an immigrant was not landed excluding health and mental reasons. Many were excluded the first time but were allowed in after appealing the decision. Reasons for deportation usually consisted of major discrepancies in the testimony of the immigrant and that of the family.

As one inspector stated, “. . . I remember a case of a boy whose father was bringing him in. He said his mother was so-and-so, but his father said his mother was so-and-so.

He wasn’t landed” (Lai 110). A good example is the case of Woo Yuen Fong, docket #19480/5-9. His testimony was incomplete concerning his brother’s family and some key village information. He did not know the date of his brother’s marriage or what his brother’s wife’s name was. He also answered certain questions and when followed later with the same question framed in a different form (as seen above) he answered, “I don’t know.” Therefore A.B. Morgan, the Chairman of the Board of Special Inquiry! , stated, “The demeanor of this applicant while giving testimony has been very unsatisfactory. He has been evasive in his replies to questions, and has repeatedly stated that he does not remember, whereas, if his claim was bona fide, it is quite evident that he would know the facts upon which he has been called upon to testify” (Letter written by A.B.

Morgan). Minor discrepancies were not enough to deport immigrants. The length of questioning and the detail contained therein, however, was enough to almost cause a contradiction between the testimony of the intended entrant and the corroborating witness testimonies in every case. Questions asked of relatives concerning the minutiae surrounding the family, village and house were bound to lead to inconsistencies with the testimony presented by the detainee. From this point the Board of Special Inquiry had to determine which contradictions were major or minor.

This is a highly debatable and arbitrary subject. With an example such as knowing the names of your neighbors in the village, the board needed to determine whether or not this was a major fact or merely a minor fact. We could argue that this was superfluous information but the board and the interrogators could argue that anybody who is familiar with their own village should know their neighbors. As A.B. Morgan stated, Woo Yuen Fong! should have known certain facts but which facts he should have known were highly arbitrary.

What Morgan felt was important might not have been to Woo. Therefore deportation based on inconsistencies could be seen as an extremely subjective activity. Since almost all cases had discrepancies each case’s inconsistent testimony had to be weighed. In the end it would be the subjective nature of the board in determining which contradictions were major and which were minor. This determination of major or minor would serve as a basis for which Chinese could be landed or deported.

In a final estimation, it must be said that the Board of Special Inquiry made attempts to be fair and based their decisions on what they felt was a fair evaluation of the evidence. However, it must be noted that interrogators could never be completely fair as the intrinsic nature of an interrogation is subjective. Investigators asked questions that they thought were relevant. The Chinese were at the mercy of these interrogators as they were the ones who determined what exact questions were asked. The variability in the questioning during an interrogation and the freedom allowed to the interrogators shows evidence of the completely subjective nature of the interrogation.

Even though the judgments were often fair, the placing of Chinese immigrants through this entire process was by all accounts unfair. The process and treatment of Chinese immigrants at Angel Island was not endured by any other immigrant group. Therefore even though decisions were usually made on a thorough and f! air analysis of all the evidence, the process that the Chinese underwent was unparalleled. The percentage and number of Chinese that were excluded due to the interrogations was not truly notable. What is of note, however, is the entire debacle that the Chinese had to endure in trying to enter America. The interrogations openly flaunted sacred American principles such as fairness and equality – the Chinese at Angel Island were guilty until proven innocent. Not only did the burden of proof fall on them, decisions concerning their deportation were made using interrogation tactics which were without precedent.

The treatment of the Chinese was also in disparity with that of all other immigrant groups. The history of Chinese immigrants at Angel Island compared with that of immigrants at Ellis Island shows a stark contrast in conditions and treatment. The supposed “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island never copied Ellis Island in all regards as treatment of immigrants diverged greatly. European immigrants at Ellis Island were never suspected of entering illegally. Most ! importantly they never underwent intensive interrogations like the Chinese did. Many of those at Ellis Island remember the confusion of being rushed through cursory medical, legal, and mental examinations while prospective Chinese immigrants at Angel Island waited patiently for their interrogation dates (Yung 64). Interrogations were never carried out for other immigrant groups in courts of law or in any other immigration station.

There was simply no precedent for the type of treatment the Chinese withstood. The significance of these interrogations lies not in the numbers that they turned away but in the scars that they left on the Chinese people. The difficult experience at Angel Island combined with the rigorous interrogations imbued a constant fear of immigration officials. This fear led many Chinese to remain silent about their immigration experience. The difficulty of the interrogations and the treatment of Chinese at Angel Island was but one of the factors which made the Chinese live in persistent fear of deportation. Other immigration tactics continued on after Angel Island was closed such as raids on private homes, restaurants, and other businesses during the 1950’s which left many Chinese with a violated sense of privacy and legitimacy as United States citizens (Hong 75).

Since many Chinese did have something to hide, and many did enter illegally, and because of the intense level of deportation enforcement directed at them, many Chinese lived in fear and remained silent a! bout their experiences, trying not to incriminate themselves (Hong 75). Therefore Angel Island’s legacy did not end once the immigrant was landed, but remained with them throughout their lives. The Chinese were constantly reminded through the immigration and naturalization service’s tactics even after 1940 and the closure of Angel Island immigration station that they truly did not belong here. The long lasting impact that the detention and interrogations had on Chinese immigrants is immeasurable, but it had a profound effect on the lives of Chinese immigrants as it led them to alter their lives as U.S. citizens in the hopes that they would not be subject to immigration official tactics or more importantly deportation. The interrogations can be extrapolated out to the level of American governmental policy.

After the exclusion acts, America had effectively cut off the Chinese population, but with the resurgence of immigration following 1906, America attempted to seal the cracks in the wall by establishing the interrogations and the immigration station at Angel Island. Looking at the interrogations from this perspective, it is clear that the institution of Angel Island was simply another effort in a concerted plan to exclude the Chinese from America. Even though an accurate measure cannot be made of how successful Angel Island detention center was at deporting paper sons and merchants, due to the uncertainty of who were legitimate sons and merchants and to the interrogators inability to discern the truth, the mere presence of such a detention center was a sign for the Chinese to “keep out.” Effective or not, the interrogations bring an interesting and extremely diverse form of exclusion to Ame! rican immigration policy. By examining the interrogation process and the interrogations, we gain insight into the soul of America’s Chinese policy between 1910 and 1940. America would finally end the interrogations when it needed the Chinese in World War II. It was this interim period, from 1910 to 1940, that would be the defining moment for many Chinese immigrants as they discovered first hand through the halls of the detention center at Angel Island and in the hearings of the Board of Special Inquiry, that America did not want them as much as they wanted America. ————————————————– ———————- Works Cited Allen, M.

J. Letter written to Board of Special Inquiry on behalf of Lee Yuen How, December 10, 1917. Docket #16778/2-12, Box 1211, U.S. National Archives. Chen, Wen-Hsien. “Chinese Under Both Exclusion and Immigration Laws.” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Chicago, 1940.

Chow, Paul Q. Interview with author, March 25, 1996. Clauss, Francis J. Angel Island: Jewel of San Francisco Bay. Menlo Park: Briarcliff Press Inc., 1982.

Cooper, W. B. Letter written to Board of Special Inquiry on behalf of Lee Yuen How, December 11, 1917. Docket #16778/2-12, Box 1211, U.S. National Archives. Dorgon, Michael.

“Chinese Recall Grim Island of Despair.” San Jose Mercury News. 5 Nov. 1990: 1A, 9A. Hing, Bill Ong. Making and Remaking Asian America Through Immigration Policy, 1850-1990. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1993. Immigrant Inspector.

Letter to Commissioner of Immigration, December 31, 1917. Docket #16778/2-12, Box 1211, U.S. National Archives. Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung. Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

Morgan, A. B. Letter concerning Woo Yuen Fong case, September 20, 1920. Docket #19480/5-9, Box 1211, U.S. National Archives. Takaki, Ronald.

Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1989. United States National Archives. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, San Francisco District. Arrival Investigation Case Files 1884-1944. Box 1211, December 12, 1917 – December 19, 1917.

Yung, Judy. Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995.


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