July 29, 2009
Crib Sheets for Immigrants
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
But only if they meet our standards and look like us.
The last line was added by me and does not appear on the Statue of Liberty. Yet, it seems
to be true.
item that is not taught in American history books concerns the number
of would-be immigrants who were refused admittance to the United
States. Of the large number of immigrants who came to the U.S. through
Ellis Island, only about 2% were refused admittance. However, during
some of the peak years more than one million people were admitted, so
2% equals 20,000 people deported per year.
For the west coast equivalent at Angel Island in San Francisco, the
percentage of would-be immigrants who were refused admittance appears
to have been much higher. I haven't been able to find any statistics
about those who were refused admittance, but the numbers were obviously
high. You can imagine the fear and terror of these impoverished people,
many of whom came from remote villages in China, Japan, and elsewhere,
who traveled for months in horrible conditions, only to be refused
admittance upon reaching the new land. The return trips must have been
even worse than the trips
from the "old country" to San Francisco.
reasons for refusal were many but primarily centered around the Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1882 which was then followed by even stronger
amendments. The act allowed the U.S. to suspend immigration. The only
Chinese to be admitted were the sons of earlier Chinese immigrants who
had already established residences in the United States. The Chinese
Exclusion Act was the first significant restriction on free immigration
in U.S. history. One of the critics of the Chinese Exclusion Act was
the anti-slavery/anti-imperialist Republican Senator George Frisbie
Hoar of Massachusetts who described the Act as "nothing less than the
legalization of racial discrimination."
Of course, excluding
Chinese immigrants soon led to subterfuge: many Chinese claimed to be
sons of Chinese who were already in the United States. Earlier
immigrants passed on information about the new country to their
relatives back in China and soon many new would-be immigrants,
relatives and strangers alike, claimed to be sons of those already in
residence. This was called the "paper son system."
officials would query each passenger at the port of entry: How many
siblings and children did he have? The names of his teachers? In-laws?
Great-grandmother? Where was his mother from? Could he draw a map of
his claimed home village in rural China?
The dreaded interviews
led to the creation of elaborate "crib sheets." The immigrant purchased
study guides in the old country and studied them extensively on the
trip to Am
erica. Upon arrival, the would-be immigrant would be
cross-examined about all sorts of trivia about the claimed family as
well as about life in the supposed village of origin. The immigration
officials would then check the answers against documents created
earlier that contained the correct information.
Few of these crib
sheets survived. “You were supposed to throw the cheat sheet
overboard,” noted Nancy Shader of the National Archives and Records
Administration in New York. However, the New York Times has an article
about one newly-discovered crib sheet: the notebook appears to contain
“coaching” materials that might have been used by an immigrant known as
Chung Fook Wing when he entered the United States in 1923.
You can read more about this little-known fact of American immigration at
Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act, which
permitted Chinese nationals already residing in the country to become
naturalized citizens. It also allowed a national quota of 105 (!)
Chinese immigrants per year,
Posted by Dick Eastman on July 29, 2009 | Permalink
| Save to del.icio.us
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment
feed for this post.
I knew about the Chinese Exclusion Act, but I didn't know about the
"crib sheets." Very interesting. Although my political sentiments may
differ, I tend to agree with Senator Hoar's comment. Of course, I
wasn't there to experience what was going on at the time, so who am I
July 30, 2009 at 10:34 AM
interested in finding more about the Ellis Island deportations. Has
anyone had success finding out why some were sent back?
Terry Dewhurst |
July 30, 2009 at 10:34 AM