100th Anniversary of Angel Island Immigration Station

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January 21, 2010
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January 21, 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the immigration station on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Between 1910 and 1940, more than 500,000 immigrants from China, Japan, India, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, and Russia passed through Angel Island. A third of the immigrants were from Asia. 

Because of rabid anti-Chinese sentiment, federal immigration laws, most notably the 1882 Chinese Exculsion Act, severely restricted immigration from China. Thousands of Chinese defied the exclusion laws. 

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake created an unusual opportunity for Chinese immigrants. The temblor and subsequent fire destroyed many government documents, including birth certificates. Since the children of U.S. citizens were exempt from exclusion, many Chinese immigrants took advantage of the destruction of official records to enter the U.S. using false documents and claiming that they were the children of U.S. citizens.

Immigration officials detained more than 100,000 Chinese immigrants on Angel Island, where they were subject to interrogations to determine whether they were trying to enter the country illegally. Many Chinese immigrants were held for weeks or months while they awaited and underwent rigorous questioning. Some of them carved and wrote poems onto walls of the detention center.

The immigration station was closed after a 1940 fire, and Angel Island became a state park. In 1970, Alexander Weiss, a park ranger, discovered the poems on the walls of the abandoned detention center. The discovery led to the preservation of the immigration station, which is now a national historic landmark.

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