Interrogations of Chinese Immigrants at Angel Island




Chinese immigration, after being shut down for many years by governmental legislation and an anti-
Chinese climate resumed quickly after 1906. The major earthquake and fire that occurred in San Francisco
lent the Chinese immigrants a window of opportunity to regain entrance to America. Immigrants could now
claim, without proof, that they were indeed the son or daughter of a citizen or a partner in a legitimate
business. These paper sons and paper merchants increased the number of Chinese immigrants by an
unbelievable rate. It was this supposed population explosion that would lead the United States to
investigate all incoming Chinese immigrants. Being wary of the impossibility of so many legitimate
children of U.S. citizens of Chinese descent, the department of immigration and naturalization sought out to
verify that these people were indeed the true sons and daughters or the actual businessmen that they
claimed to be. Therefore it was against this historical background and unde!
r these particular auspices that the interrogations at Angel Island were carried out from 1910 to 1940. These
interrogations were by no means fair, nor were they based on any other legal or practical precedent. While
unreasonable detentions were already the norm, the act of interrogating immigrants to the extent that the
Chinese were interrogated was unheard of in history. These interrogations were intricate and detailed, and
designed to ensnare unwitting Chinese immigrants seeking entrance into the United States. The
interrogations not only presented a hurdle for incoming immigrants by prolonging their detention at Angel
Island and increasing the bureaucracy required to process Chinese immigrants, but would deeply scar the
Chinese landing in the United States. Moreover, the traumatic experiences at Angel Island coupled with
other practices following the detentions such as raids of Chinatown during the Red Scare of the 1950's led
to a persistent fear of deportation by landed C!
hinese. The interrogations were more than just simple interview questions about one's village or parents,
rather they were, taken as a whole, another method to exclude the Chinese from America.
The entire interrogation was loosely structured but by no means were they were regular or fair. After being
held at Angel Island on a writ of habeas corpus, Chinese immigrants were interrogated by a Board of
Special Inquiry which was composed of two inspectors, one of which was the Chairman of the Board, a
stenographer, and finally an interpreter. This board was not held to technical rules of procedure or evidence
as used in other federal courts but rather was allowed to use any means it deemed fit under the exclusion
acts and immigration laws to ascertain the applicant's legitimacy to enter the United States (Lai 20).
Nevertheless the lines of questioning were generally the same for all immigrants. The questions usually
started with personal information then proceeded onto family information, village information, and then
finally information on the home. Within these groupings there were multiple side questions concerning
details of the family or village. Immigrants were aske!
d extremely detailed and far ranging questions within these side questions. They were asked questions
similar to the questions Jow Yick faced in 1909 in case #1424, "Is she (your mother) a small footed
woman?" or "Is any body of water near or within sight of your house?" Other questions concerning the
village became increasingly detailed. In the case of Ung Shee, case #16778/2-12, the husband had to testify
on the entire village and all the particulars of the inhabitants of each home. In one instance the inspector
asked the husband of Ung Shee whether or not the woman in the third house and fourth row of the village
had bound feet. In Ung Shee's case, detailed questioning about every family in every house was continued
up until the seventh row of the village. Her husband also endured questions such as, "Do you cross a stream
going to the market?" and "How large is the bridge over that stream?" as well as other questions such as,
"Did your brother have a picture of yourself in !
his house?" (Box 1211 National Archives). This however, was not far from the norm for most immigrants.
To give a general idea of the structure of the interrogation, an inspector gave a brief description of the line
of questioning he took:


We started by getting the data on the applicant himself: his