Thursday, July 21, 2016

The West Coast Ellis Island

New York, Statue Of LibertyWe are all aware of Ellis Island.  The reputed place that immigrants arrived to be checked out before being admitted to America.  Some made it, some were returned but this is the place celebrated for that.  The truth is that not all immigrants arrived via Ellis Island on the East Coast and certainly not the West Coast. 

Can you see the Japanese or Chinese sailing all the way around to New York City to be admitted before being shipped back?  Well there is a place near San Francisco where the Chinese, Japanese, and other Asians were processed over the span of 30 to 40 years.  It is also a place where POW's were processed during World War II.

What is this place?  Its called Angel Island which is now a state park.  In its heyday, from 1910 to 1940, it was responsible for processing people from Asia but did you realize that this was the place where Russians, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Mexicans, and others came through?

If someone traveled in First or Second class passage via ship, they were processed on board and were able to disembark in San Francisco but if they were any other class or sick, they were ferried to Angel Island to be processed. Once on the island, they were divided into country of origin because only a limited number of Chinese were allowed in due to the Exclusion Act of 1882.

The facility at Angel Island was actually built as a way of enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  This was built over the objections of the Chinese community.  For the Chinese, it was hard to come in because they had to claim to be in one of the categories that were allowed in.  They sometimes bought false papers but they had to know everything about the identity they purchased or the family had to create the story together and know all the details because of the examination.

It was really more of an interrogation because each of these people were interrogated for days. The immigration officers would ask questions about the smallest aspect of their lives and if the person coming in or his family messed up, everyone could be sent back to China. It was not a fun encounter.

The general process for Chinese .  When they arrived at the island, they were offloaded and they had to go to the Administration building where they were divided in to two lines, one for males and one for females and children.  The next step was a medical exam and if they were sick, they either ended up in the hospital for treatment they paid for or they were deported. If they passed they were put in dormitories where they awaited interrogation.  Once interrogated and the facts checked out, they might be released but the waiting period ranged from a couple months to years depending on where they had to go to check the information. Although others came through the place, it was mostly used to process the Chinese. 

This lasted till 1940 when a fire burned the Administration building to the ground and the process was moved to the mainland. 

It turns out that during the 1930's when the Nazi's were rising in power in Germany and Europe, many of the Jews left the area, traveling through Russia to China and Japan to board ships to the United States.  Many families made it to Angel Island only to have to remain because they lacked funds to reach their final destinations.  Many of the Jews began their journey in Russia, Poland, or Lithuania and fled to avoid military conscription or persecution.

In addition, there was a shipload of Russians who came through Angel Island back in the early 20's because they were avoiding the Bolshevik revolution.  Only 523 or the original 7000 people made it to the United States.  This large group was processed at Fort McDowell because Angel Island could not accommodate them.  The few who were not legal to enter were shipped to Angel Island until their appeals were decided.

It is not known how many people came through Angel Island but it is estimated to have processed 300,000 people and deported anywhere between 11 and 30 percent of those who came.  To compare, Ellis Island is said to have processed 12,000,000 but only turned away 1 to 2 percent which could be explained because most of the Chinese came in through Angel Island.  One other thing, the Exclusion Act itself was repealed during World War II but the number of Chinese admitted to the United States remained low until 1965.

Hope you enjoyed reading this.  I had fun researching it.  I would like to thank Patrick Weseman for the idea.  Check out his blog to see pictures he took of Angel Island.


  1. Very nice post. I enjoyed it. You got the facts right. Angel Island is a very important place in American history.

    1. Thank you. I've found that very few people know of Angel Island or of its history. I appreciate you reading it.

  2. Here is a blog I did a couple of years ago from the Army side of the Angel Island. There was an immigration side and an Army base side.

    1. Thank you. I heard they actually processed POW's at Angel Island too. Its a cool blog entry.

  3. While I am not from the USA I found this post describing previous immigration to be very interesting.

    Bloggers Pit Stop

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by. I actually enjoy researching topics.