Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Excludable until proven otherwise"- The Investigation of the Jue Family, Angel Island 1918

Recently I was able to obtain the copies of the original Angel Island immigration investigation of the Jue Family in 1918. These documents are a treasure trove of information and provide a complete and dramatic picture of how one particular family navigated successfully the difficult interrogations of the  Exclusion era and were allowed entry into the United States.

At the time of  the arrival of Jue Joe's wife and sons at Angel Island,  the  Immigration service's policy stated that the Chinese were to be judged , "excludable until they could be proven otherwise."  It was assumed that Chinese were trying to deceive  immigration officials as to their identities and family relationships. Exclusion era policies had divided the Chinese community  into two separate and unequal groups. Merchants could travel freely between China and the United States and marry , have children and then bring those familes to the United States.  Laborers and farmers such as Jue Joe were not allowed to travel as freely and they were not able to bring their familes into the United States.  Immigration officials were well aware of the process of paper sons and paper wives  where men were posing as sons and women as wives of  merchants when in fact they were not related at all to the merchants applying  for their entry. They were well aware of the process whereby Chinese of the restricted laborer class would pay Chinese merchants to falsely apply for the immigration of these individuals as their own family members. Immigration officials were also well aware that many laborers would buy into merchant firms and falsely claim merchant status in order to bring their families to the United States. By 1918 when the Jue family arrived at Angel Island, immigration procedures had become standardized and quite rigorous in order to detect "paper sons" and false merchants.

In the case of  immigration of merchant's family members, the first phase of the investigation was an investigation of the validty of the applicant's merchant status. We have discussed  this phase of the investigation of Jue Joe's  application in the preceding post.  Jew Joe, a farmer and not in the merchant class, had bought into the Thomas C. Chung company in order to acheive merchant status. The immigration service determined that Jew Joe was indeed a bona fide merchant and thus allowed to apply for immigration of his family members.

The next phase was the interrogation of the merchant applicant. The applicant was questioned closely as to his birth , birthplace, how long he has been in America, his visits to China,  his relatives, their relationships with each other, their whereabouts , and specific physical details of their home village in minute detail. This information was detailed and was used to cross check against the testimony of alleged family members and the testimony of any witnesses. One of the main reasons for exclusion of  family members would be if the testimony of alleged family members did not match the testimony of  the applicant. Unfortunately , the questions were so difficult and detailed that  often inconsistencies arose even in the testimony of real family members. Young children were also asked detailed  questions separated from their parents. This was often the first time these children had faced a white adult and it was often a frightening experience. 

Witnesses who knew the applicant as well as the alleged family members were important and crucial to the investigation. These witnesses would also be subject to detailed and probing questions as to their knowlege of the family relationships  and home villages and the truthfulness of their answers was evaluated by how well they were consistent with the answers of the  applicant and his alleged family. Finally, inspectors would also comment on whether alleged children of the applicant matched his appearance.

After the initial  interviews were accomplished , the inspectors would then reexamine alleged family members and the applicant with probing questions if inconsistencies in their inital interviews were identified.
Finally a determination was made as to whether the alleged family were truly related to the applicant and decision for or against entry of family members would be made.  The decision could be to allow the whole family to enter or only certain individuals with other individuals deported back to China.

Interrogations were intimidating both on a verbal level and also in the physical layout of the interrogation environment.  Here is a picture of a typical Angel Island immigration interrogation:

In  April of 1918 Jue Joe's family finally arrives in the San Francisco bay via steamer from Hong Kong. The family is headed  for detention on Angel Island until their immigration status is settled. Jue Joe has hired  a Caucasian immigration attorney.  He has proven his merchant status through an immigration investigation in Los Angeles.  He has provided the authorities with this sworn affadavit requesting admission of his  family with photos of himself and his family. He has not seen his family for 12 long years. (Click on image to enlarge and read) .

He is in San Francisco  with his witness Lee Bing , his cousin.  Lee Bing has travelled between the United States and China twice bringing money home to Jue Joe's family in China and can identify Jue Joe and the family. The two men are prepared to testify to immigration authorites.   Jue  has provided instructions for his sons to dress in western clothing and his wife to dress in Chinese clothing appropriate to the wife of a merchant. He has sent  90 pages of coaching instructions to his wife, and sons as to the probable questions that they will be asked and how they should be answered.  My grandfather, Jew Sun Tong is 13 years old.  He sees Angel Island looming ahead and as instructed by his father he throws the coaching papers over the rail of the ship. He is frightened but his father, who left the family when he was a baby and who he does not remember, has instructed him that he must be strong. He must answer the questions confidently and calmly and only give the information requested and no more. He has memorized the answers he must give. He wonders what this strange new land will be like , and what his father will be like.  The island draws closer.

In succeeding posts I will  provide the full transcripts of the testimony of  Jew Joe, Lee Bing, Leong Shee, Jew Sun Yeaw , and Jew Sun Tong ( the youngest son of Jew Joe and my grandfather),as well as a full text of the final United States Immigration Service analysis of the testimony .

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