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Chinese Exclusion and the Establishment of the Gate-keeping Nation
The popular history of immigration to the United States has for the most part focused on European experiences and stories. The history of Chinese immigration offers different lessons. When Chinese immigration began with the California Gold Rush it was in many cases welcomed. By the 1870s, however, the United States experienced the rise of anti-Chinese movements, mostly originating in California, but growing to receive national support. These movements were spurred by an economic depression and the belief among white laborers that Chinese immigrants were “coolies” working for wages that undermined white standards of living. In addition, opponents of Chinese immigration accused the Chinese of being members of a “barbaric” and “heathen” race, who promised to introduce disease, drug use, and other pernicious cultural practices into American life. In 1875, Congress passed the Page Act, which greatly curtailed the immigration of Chinese women to the United States by requiring them to seek entry visas from American consular officials stationed in Hong Kong and other ports, prior to departure. Consular officials were predisposed to judge Chinese women as “immoral” threats who would work in prostitution in the United States. As a result, Chinese immigrants in the United States in the nineteenth century tended to be overwhelmingly male, and, ironically, furthered accusations by white Americans that they had no desire to bring their families and settle permanently. By 1880, both the Republican and Democratic parties supported restrictions on Chinese immigration in their official platforms.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred laborers of the Chinese race from entering the United States (merchants and students were exempted). Previously, the 1870 Naturalization Act, which formally extended citizenship to African Americans, denied Asian immigrants the right to naturalize as citizens. In 1892, the Geary Act renewed the Exclusion Act and added the legal requirement that all Chinese immigrants register with the government and carry photographic identification proving their right to be in the United States. The enforcement of the Geary Act affected American-born Chinese citizens alongside Chinese immigrants.
During Chinese Exclusion, which lasted until 1943 – and was not fully abolished until 1965 – Chinese immigrants adopted numerous tactics to circumvent what they felt were racially discriminatory laws. Chinese men and women immigrated as “paper” sons and daughters, for example, establishing fictive familial relationships to American-born Chinese and exempted merchants, in order to be admitted. Other Chinese immigrants illegally crossed the Mexican and Canadian borders into the United States, leading to the establishment of the Border Patrol in order to police their exclusion. As Erika Lee and Judy Yung note, “Chinese immigrants and Chinese American citizens lived their lives in the shadows, anxious about their immigration status, harassment by immigration officials, and personal safety.”
William Wu Fong
Kelly, Samantha, Macphee, Chris, Park, Jenifer, Urban, Andy
William Wu Fong claimed to be born in the United States. However, there was a lack of documentation to verify that this was the case. Due to the Chinese Exclusion laws that allowed only merchants and students to enter the United States, it was important that Fong had all of his documents in order before leaving the United States. Fong intended to visit China to see his family and to get married. In order to make his re-entry into the United States easier, Fong filled out a Form 430. The purpose of this form was to establish Fong’s American citizenship and to allow for a quick re-entry without an additional investigation.
When Fong filled out the Form 430, the only piece of documentation that he had was his discharge papers from the United States Army. However, on his military discharge papers there was no proof of his birth in the United States. During several interviews with immigration officers, Fong was unable to answer all of the questions posed to him. This may be due to the suggestion in the Chinese immigrant “coaching books” – books used to guide Chinese immigrants on how to answer questions from immigration officials in order to gain entry into the United States – to answer questions as vaguely as possible to avoid being caught in a lie.
Immigration officials did not believe that the testimony of Chinese immigrants was very reliable. When Fong was interviewed, he was required to provide two white witnesses who could verify his status as a merchant. Fong selected George Randles, a wholesale grocer who conducted business with the Foo Nema Low Chinese Restaurant at 198 Mulberry Street in downtown Newark, where Fong claimed to work as the manager (thus qualifying him as a merchant). When Randles testified the first time, he spoke highly of Fong and verified that he worked as a manger at the restaurant. Randles, however, eventually went back to the immigration officials and rescinded his statement, claiming that since his testimony, he had not seen Fong at the restaurant. The immigration officials assigned to the case decided to make multiple visits to the restaurant to verify whether Fong was a manager there. On both of their visits to the restaurant Fong was not there. As a result of Fong not being at the restaurant and Randles retracting his testimony, Fong’s Form 430 was denied.
This was not the end of Fong’s quest to receive an approved Form 430. Fong hired an attorney to help his cause. In the meantime, it appears that Fong took advantage of the willingness of certain federal judges to naturalize Chinese immigrants who served in World War I, even though under the terms of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants were barred from naturalizing. During World War I, Congress had enacted a law that said that if an immigrant served in the military, than that immigrant could immediately become a naturalized citizen. According to the rationale of the law, by serving in the military the immigrants demonstrated patriotism, assimilation, and the qualities of a “good American.” Although the law was intended primarily to fast-track the naturalization of European immigrants who had served in the Armed Forces, it created a contentious debate over whether Chinese immigrants, who were allegedly unassimilable, could also become citizens. Fong’s naturalization as a citizen was either redundant, since he claimed to have been born in Oakland and therefore would have possessed birthright citizenship, or evidence that his story was not entirely true.
The DREAM Act, which went before Congress in 2010 but was not passed, relates directly to Fong’s experience. Similar to World War I, the DREAM Act stated that if an immigrant were to serve in the military, then their naturalization would be expedited. The Act poses the question: if an immigrant is willing to fight for the rights of the United States, then should they not also possess the rights of an American citizen?
Chan Kee and Ng Hoong Low
Urban, Andy, Heggs, Danielle, Montoya, Andrea, Muniz, Danielle, Pericic, Iva
Chan Kee arrived in Seattle, Washington on June 7, 1921 on the steamship Princess Charlotte. Chan came to the United States as a Section Six merchant under the Chinese Exclusion Laws. At first, Chan was denied entrance because he had Trachoma. Then, on August 15, 1921, he applied for admission again and was admitted because he produced a medical certificate stating he was healthy. On November 9, 1921, Chan Kee obtained permission to move to New York to work at the Quong Yick Yuen Company. By 1924, he ran the George Chan Laundry at 96 French Street in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1924, Chan Kee applied for a Laborers’ Return Certificate so that he could go back to China. Chan overstayed his visit in China, and a raid in Hong Kong found a fraudulent doctor’s certificate that belonged to him. (The raid was conducted to investigate a doctor in Hong Kong who was found to be falsifying medical reports. The falsified medical reports allowed Chinese immigrants who had returned to China for visits to extend their visits beyond the allotted one-year period, by stating they were ill and could not travel.) On February 16, 1926, Inspector-in-Charge A.W Brough asked the Commissioner General in Seattle that the Consul General Roger Tredwell in Hong Kong be notified if Chan Kee attempted to reenter the US. According to the file, he never did.
Ng Hoong Low (alias Ng Sang Toy) was born in China in or around the year 1895 in the Sun Ning District. He claimed that he originally arrived in San Francisco when he was approximately 21 years-old. Ng was a laborer in a Chinese laundry located at 377 15th Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Ng was not a qualified Chinese immigrant under the Chinese Exclusion Laws. He was a laborer who could not prove his birthright citizenship status. He claimed he was never questioned by immigration officials when he arrived in San Francisco and that he did not know the name of the ship he was supposedly brought to America on. Ng gave conflicting statements concerning his parents and his birth in California or China, and claimed to serve time in the United States military but could not produce a draft card. Upon further review of his case by immigration officials, an arrest warrant was issued for Ng. When Ng appeared for a medical appointment at the Newark Eye & Ear Infirmary located at 77 Central Avenue in Newark to treat his trachoma, he was taken into custody by authorities.
Upon reviewing the National Archive files for Chan Kee and Ng Hoong Low, it was interesting to see the amount of effort that was put forth in policing the laws governing Chinese immigrants. To obtain entry into the country, they were subjected to a series of tests and had to possess enough resources to be considered a successful candidate for immigration. Whether it was the requirement that Chinese immigrants provide proof that they were free of trachoma, or the requirement that they show evidence that they had available financial means to support themselves, the far-reaching authority of immigration officials was astounding. The amount of remote control imposed in other countries also shows the far-reaching arm of the United States government and the amount of determination and review put into monitoring immigrants, in particular Chinese immigrants. These cases revealed the extent to which local bureaucrats were also involved in the process by reporting potential illegal immigrants and admitting testimony in those cases. This proves that the law was weighted in favor of those who possessed acceptable resources and forms of capital that the United States government deemed an asset to participation in the United States economy – especially in the cases of Chinese immigrants who were barred from naturalizing as citizens.
Hom Jin Fung
Urban, Andy, Capone, Kim, Gunther, Rudy, Hassanein. Shereen, Mitwally, Hoda
Hom Jin Fung left Sam Ah Hong village in China’s Hoy Ping District in the 1910s. He worked as a carpenter on an Indian vessel for about three years prior to entering the United States. After entering the United States, Hom opened Wing Lee Laundry in Bayonne, NJ. In November 1925, the United States Customs Service received an anonymous letter stating that Hom was working at Wing Lee Laundry without proper identification. Lewis B. Reynolds, an immigration inspector, and an unnamed bilingual translator, interrogated Hom. Like other detainees thought to be in violation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, he was questioned very thoroughly. Reynolds asked questions involving Hom’s immigration history, past work, family, and current employment at the laundry. Hom stated that he had a wife who resided in his native village and that they had no children. Later, he contradicted himself by admitting that he had a son in China with his wife.
When asked for proper documentation allowing him to live and work in the United States, Hom claimed it was accidentally burnt at the laundry. A second interrogation was held a few days later, during which the authorities found inconsistencies with Hom’s previously given statements. For instance, he admitted that he did not possess the appropriate paperwork that would allow him to live and work in the United States. Based on the interrogations and anonymous letter, Reynolds decided that deportation was necessary. In February 1926, the United States Commissioner for the District of New Jersey charged Hom as a “Chinese alien laborer unlawfully [residing] within the United States.” The Commissioner called for his immediate detainment and deportation, even though he lacked legal representation and a trial had not yet been held.
Hom’s case was heard upon appeal in the United States District Court in Trenton, although it took nearly a year for the case to appear before the judge. Immigration officials like Reynolds did not want Hom Jin Fung’s deportation decision to go to court because many Chinese immigrants exhausted the legal system attempting to appeal their exclusion decision. The success rate for appealing an exclusion decision with legal representation was high, even though this was not the case with Hom. Chinese immigrants were very knowledgeable about the laws and requirements for entrance into the United States. Many immigrants hired lawyers to assist entry or reentry into the United States. Lawyers and lobbyists were valuable allies for Chinese immigrants. Generally, immigration officials more readily believed rumors over testimony from immigrants (such as that in the anonymous letter), making their cases before immigration officials outside the legal system difficult. The relatively new immigration policies at the time, combined with racialized perceptions of Chinese immigrants, allowed for corruption within the system. On April 30, 1927, Hom was deported to the Republic of China via California.
Oung Dan You
Urban, Andy, Bugen, Sarah, Houston, Travis, Lanz, Hillary, Pirl, Will
The story of Oung Dan You is very different from what modern Americans might consider a typical immigration story. Oung Dan You resided in the United States for 71 years. Oung immigrated to the US in 1870, at a time when the United States was actively encouraging the entry of Chinese immigrants under the 1868 Burlingame Treaty. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act nullified the treaty. Oung worked in a laundry, and had he attempted to enter the United States after 1882 he would have been excluded as a Chinese laborer by the congressional legislation.
By the 1940s, Oung was living in Dover, New Jersey, a town quite distant from New York and Newark – where sizeable Chinatowns were located – and not a common destination for Chinese immigrants. It is unlikely that in Dover Oung could rely on the comfort and companionship that came with being part of a larger Chinese immigrant community. In the testimony he would provide to immigration officials, Oung stated that he had a wife and son in China. Oung had returned to China in 1880 for roughly 15 months, but this was the only time in his 71 years of United States residence in which he visited his native country. Following the passage of the 1888 Scott Act, Chinese immigrant laborers who left the United States and sought to return were not guaranteed re-admittance in spite of previous residence. In addition, as a laborer Oung was barred from bringing his wife and son to the United States to join him.
Toward the end of his time in the United States, Oung fell into destitution and relied on public assistance for a majority of his income. His landlord let him reside rent-free for a lengthy period of time. Oung had no relatives in the United States to turn to for support. According to his file, Oung voluntarily notified immigration officials about his status as a “public charge,” in order to be designated for deportation. His lack of resources, family, and elderly age made it unlikely he could improve his resources. Oung Dan You was finally ordered to report to Ellis Island on March 12, 1941, for deportation to China via San Francisco. The true significance of the story of Oung Dan You lies in the suffering of a man who came to America, like so many others, in the hope of opportunity. The suffering ultimately drove Oung to volunteer for deportation. The occupation of China by Japan during World War II meant that the land Oung returned to would be a far cry from the China he left more than 70 years prior.
The Great Depression led United States officials to deport nearly one million Mexican and Mexican Americans. The movement began in California under the guise of “repatriation”. Questionable legal tactics and acts of intimidation led some Mexicans, in the country legally, to volunteer for repatriation. Much like Oung, many were returning to a country they had not been in for years. The Great Depression put so many laborers out of work that Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and other Americans scrambled to find jobs alike. Mexicans, much like the Chinese, had now drawn the ire of the United States government. At the heart of the repatriation was the argument that the United States government was clearing out individuals they deemed “public charges” in order to relieve pressures on the system and give jobs to “Americans”. Research showed that Mexicans on public assistance represented a small fraction of the total number and the benefits of deporting so many were grossly overestimated. It is interesting to see how the attention of the United States government – and the idea of who poses a threat – can wander from one group to another.
Lee Me Bo
Urban, Andy, Chávez, Vanessa, Mason, Mario, Rochfort, Melissa, Vargas, Mari
Lee Me Bo, born in Hin Loo Village, China, worked at a grocery store. He came to the United States through Montreal after his brother Lee Yick paid 250 dollars to the firm Yee Wo Lung & Company to smuggle him into New York through the border town of Malone, since he did not have papers entitling him entry. Upon arrival, Lee worked in the store of Quong Yuen Shing in New York City for seven years, for a monthly salary of 30 dollars. Lee saved money in order to obtain interest in Quong Lee Yuen & Company, based on Lafayette Street in Newark. On February 15, 1908, Lee initiated the procedure to officially establish his status as a merchant, which would allow him to depart for China with the intent to reenter the United States. He was 35 years-old and married to Wong She, and had no children. As part of legal proceedings, Lee Me Bo had white witnesses Alethia M. Carter, Adolph Franz, Lizzie Ash, James Ash, John Yourth, and Mrs. Roubroy testify to his involvement in Quong Lee Yuen as a merchant.
Lee Me Bo had come before the immigration officials to obtain the necessary certification of his merchant status prior to departing the United States for China so that he would be eligible for reentry upon his return with minimal scrutiny and hassle. He was required to submit to an interrogation to prove his merchant status and to confirm that he was not undertaking any manual labor. The provision of the Chinese Exclusion Act that was being enforced in this case was the need for Lee Me Bo to acquire the appropriate certifications from the Immigration Service in order to be able to reenter the United States as a domiciled merchant when returning from China.
The United States restricted Chinese immigration through the Chinese Exclusion Act but Section 6 created an exemption for students, teachers, merchants, and travelers. Lee Me Bo was smuggled through Canada and created his life in New Jersey. He was able to prove he was a merchant and gain the right to reentry although he did not have resident papers. The white witnesses who testified on Lee’s behalf knew him through the Protestant Sunday School where he studied, and their religious affiliation gave them credibility as “respectable” members of the community. Although they could not verify positively his merchant status, they believed him to be a credible, assimilated Chinese man, who attended their school regularly.
Lii Yuen Sooy and Jew Goon Jing
Urban, Andy, Delaney, Pat, Lopez, Aldo, Kushner, Aviva, Robinson, Stephen
Chinese immigrants to the United States faced many hardships during the early-twentieth century. Many did not speak the language and faced prejudice and suspicion over whether they would be able to assimilate. The Chinese faced many unfair practices that restricted their ability to enter the country, or did not allow them to return if they left.
As merchants however, Lii Yuen Sooy and Jew Goon Jing could use their class position and connections with prominent white Americans in order to prove their permitted status. Lii, for example, provided a letter from James Seymour (see image below), the Mayor of Newark, stating that he was a “highly respected merchant and resident” of the city.
Prior to coming to Newark, Jew Goon Jing resided in Havana, Cuba. Many Chinese immigrants who ended up in the New York City area came from Cuba, where a large Chinese community existed. In the 1850s, sugar planters in Cuba brought Chinese “coolies” – contracted laborers indentured to plantations – to the island. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, a more economically diverse Chinese community had developed in Cuba, and Havana’s “El Barrio Chino” was one of the largest Chinatowns in Latin America.
Chin Ming and Ng King
Urban, Andy, Cheruvu, Sivaram, FrancoMartin, Rebecca, Jones, Andrew, Malchow, Mark
Chinese immigrants Ng King and Chin Ming resided in the United States under vastly different circumstances. Ng was working as a merchant in Newark, New Jersey with the firm Kwong Yick & Lung, when Customs officers in New York City received a letter from a man who identified himself as “Chinaman Charley Sung” and from a man allegedly named Henry Fong. Sung and Fong accused Ng of importing illegal Chinese immigrants into the United States from Mexico and harboring them in his store. Sung also accused Ng of smuggling opium into the country. Custom officials forwarded the letter to immigration officials. Chin, also of merchant class, legally entered the United States in January 15, 1921 after obtaining a Certificate of Chinese Subject Exemption Class from Mayoro, Trinidad. This version of the Section Six certificate, issued from Ming’s prior place of residence, provided proof of his merchant status and sound financial standing, allowing him entrance. Chin was quickly approved for entry following his arrival at Ellis Island and issued Certificate of Identity #34429.
The importation of Chinese laborers from foreign countries such as Mexico was illegal and had emerged a means of circumventing restrictions on Chinese immigrants who could no longer enter the United States directly from China. Sung and Fong were undoubtedly aware of this when they reported Ng to officials. It is unclear whether the informants wished to eliminate vice in the Chinese community or if they were involved in illegal activities as well and simply wished to get rid of the competition. (It is unclear if their names were even Charley Sung and Henry Fong, as they claimed.) Chin, on the other hand, had all his documentation and was regarded as an upstanding immigrant. On July 1, 1927, Chin decided to visit his aging parents in China and utilized his legal documents to obtain return status to the United States following the visit. The immigration office recognized Chin’s Certificate of Identity No. 34429, his Section 6 Certificate issued in Trinidad, his New York file number 25/475-S, and the completed Form 432 for return status. Upon examination the U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration Service granted Ming “favorable consideration” to embark on his visit to China.
During Chinese Exclusion, the surreptitious smuggling of Chinese immigrants into the United States became commonplace. The Chinese Exclusion Act did not cause the demand for Chinese labor to dwindle. Smuggling occurred on both the US-Mexican border and the US-Canadian border, as businesses continued to hire Chinese immigrants. For example, labor contractors with ties to Chinese merchants played an active role in orchestrating the smuggling of Chinese migrant labor across the Puget Sound to work in American sawmills. A comparison can be drawn with the employment of undocumented migrants in the United States today. Businesses such as Howard Industries, an electrical products manufacturing firm in Mississippi, have allegedly facilitated the transfer of undocumented migrants from Mexico and instructed migrants on how to obtain false documentation. Despite government regulation during Chinese exclusion and in the present-day, there continues to be a considerable effort on the part of businesses in the smuggling undocumented migrants across the border to obtain a low-wage migrant labor force.
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