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Angel Island Immigration Center

William Taft

Angel Island Immigration Center: William Taft was the 27th American President who served in office from March 4, 1909 to March 4, 1913. One of the important events during his presidency was the Angel Island Immigration Center. completion of the new cell house at Angel Island Immigration Center in 1912.

Definition and Summary of the Angel Island Immigration Center
Summary and definition:
Angel Island Immigration Center (1910 - 1940), was located in San Francisco Bay, and opened on January 21, 1910. It served as a detention center for  immigrants from China, Japan and Asia who entered the United States of America from the east.

Ellis Island in New York was the immigration center in the west and processed European immigrants. The exact number of people who passed through the Angel Island Immigration Center is unknown as records were destroyed in the fire that led to the closure of the compound in 1940.

Angel Island Immigration Center for kids: FAQ's
Fast, fun facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) about Angel Island Immigration Center for kids.

Where was Angel Island Immigration Center located? San Francisco Bay, California

When was the Angel Island Immigration Center opened? Construction began at 'China Cove' in 1905 and it was opened in 1910

What was its nickname? The "Ellis Island of the West"

What was the purpose of the Angel Island Immigration Center? The facility was primarily a processing and detention center where people were held for weeks or months

When did the Angel Island Immigration Center close? The Immigration Center closed in 1940 after a fire destroyed the Administration building

Angel Island Immigration Center for kids: Background History
The Angel Island Immigration Center was primarily produced to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Acts although immigrants who arrived in San Francisco from the east via the Pacific were also detained at the compound. The investigation and interrogation process of immigrants from Japan, India, Russia and the Philippines were much less stringent than that applied to the Chinese.

Angel Island Immigration Center for kids: Immigration Laws
The US Immigration Laws particularly targeted immigrants from China. The
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banned the immigration of laborers from China for 10 years and this period was extended by the 1892 Geary Act. The Immigration Act of 1907 also restricted immigration and established the Dillingham Commission whose report discriminated between Old and New Immigration and concluded that immigration from Asia and eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and should therefore be greatly reduced.

Angel Island Immigration Center vs Ellis Island
Immigrants who arrived in Ellis Island via the Atlantic from western Europe fared better than those who arrived at Angel Island. The immigration vetting process was much quicker usually  taking less than one day compared with anything up to one year in the San Francisco compound. It is estimated that between 11% - 30% were ultimately deported, whereas the deportation rate from Ellis Island was only 2%.

Angel Island Immigration Center: Exemptions
The Chinese Exclusion Act banned unskilled laborers but allowed merchants, clergy, diplomats, teachers, students as "exempt" classes to enter the United States. A son or daughter of an American citizen was also granted entry regardless of nationality. If a Chinese immigrant was related to a citizen in America, he or she would be allowed entrance into the country. This exemption resulted in the occurrence of "paper sons" and "paper daughters" in which many people falsified documents claiming their parents were in America. This was made possible by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire which destroyed the immigration records of the Chinese in California.

Angel Island Immigration Center Facts and Info for kids: Brief Facts for kids via the Fact Sheet
Interesting description and brief facts about the Angel Island Immigration Center History are detailed in the following Fact Sheet.

History: Native Americans were the first inhabitants of Angel Island. They belonged to the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, a Native American people of the California coast.

History: The island was named in 1775 by the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala. He called it 'Isla de Los Angeles'. The island, with an area of 640 acres, is the largest island in the San Francisco Bay.

History: In 1848 the island changed from Spanish to American when California became part of the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War.

History: In 1850 the island was designated a federal military reserve with gun batteries to guard San Francisco Bay. The fortified island was used by the Union Army during the Civil War (1861 - 1865) and later used as a base for US troops fighting the 'Indian Wars' .

History: In 1892 the island was used as a quarantine station and inspection station to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as Yellow fever, cholera, and plague, to the United States.  by  Ships arriving from contaminated foreign ports were inspected and, if necessary, disinfected.

History: The immigration station compound was initially built by the federal government to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Construction began at 'China Cove' in 1905 and the compound was opened in 1910. The location on the island was chosen because it isolated immigrants from their family and friends on the US mainland.

Immigrants from China, Japan and Asia were inspected before entry was allowed into the United States. In 1910 a national system was created specifically to regulate Asian immigration

Immigration officials boarded ships arriving, via the Pacific, in San Francisco to inspect the documents of every passenger. Passengers were separated  by nationality and class

Those who passed inspection went straight to customs and into the United States. These people were the First and Second Class passengers.

People who traveled in steerage usually required further inspection and were taken to Angel Island Immigration Center.

The immigrants were transported from the San Francisco piers by ferries to the inspection center where everyone would undergo a legal and medical inspection.

The immigration station had over 500 employees, including interpreters, and could handle over 2000 immigrants per day with sleeping accommodation for 1,000

There were 20 buildings on the compound. The immigration station consisted of:

  • The a two-story Administration Building

  • Segregated barracks,  30 x 30 feet, for the immigrants

  • Kitchen

  • Dining hall - access from the barracks through a covered passage

  • The Hospital

  • Laundry

  • Storehouse

  • Covered exercise yard

  • Housing for station employees.

The first stop on disembarking at the pier was the Administration Building where men were separated from women and children before undergoing the humiliating and embarrassing medical examinations.

Those with incurable diseases or disabling ailments were excluded from entry and deported. Other sick people were sent to the hospital

After the medical examinations they were assigned a detention dormitory and a bunk, where they had to wait to be interrogated by the Board of Special Inquiry

Segregation: Men were separated from women and children. Detainees were housed in segregated quarters.  Asian and non-Asians were also segregated. Large ethnic groups, such as Chinese, Japanese, Indian, or Russian, were kept together.

Up to 100 detainees slept in dormitories in the barracks:

  • The dormitories contained bunk beds stacked three high and two across

  • There was no privacy

  • There were not even doors on the toilets and showers

  • Conditions were described as "crowded and unsanitary, resembling a slum."

  • They were both a health and a safety risk

The compound was surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards were posted in towers to deter any hope of escape.

Detainees were allowed outside the barracks only for interrogations, meals and supervised recreation in the exercise yard

Women and children were allowed for walks around island once a week

There were no newspapers or radio and usually no visitors, except for missionaries.

Chinese on the mainland and leaders in the compound formed the Angel Island Liberty Association to try to make conditions more bearable

The Board of Inquiry: Immigrant applicants were interrogated by a Board of Special Inquiry. The Board of Inquiry was composed of:

  • Two immigration inspectors

  • A stenographer

  • A translator

The Board of Inquiry was allowed to use any means it deemed fit, under the Exclusion acts and United States Immigration laws, to ascertain the applicant's legitimacy to enter the United States

The interrogation by the Board of Inquiry consisted of up to three hundred questions. The answers given to the questions were then compared to those provided by family members and friends to the same questions. Any small discrepancies resulted in exclusion and deportation.

This rigorous form of checking information resulted in very long stays in the compound before a decision was made as to whether the detainee should be allowed into the United States or deported

The types of questions posed by the Board of Inquiry included those about the person's identity, place of origin, family, occupation, financial status and their planned destination in the United States. Detailed questions were asked about their village, the neighbors their homes and relatives.

The amount of time it took to take the testimonies lasted for hours and sometimes days. The Board of Inquiry would often repeat the same questions looking for any small contradictions. Any hesitation when giving answers were looked upon with suspicion.

When the Board of Inquiry completed its verification process the decision was made to allow the person entry into the United States or deportation.

The Immigration Center closed in 1940 after a fire destroyed the Administration building.

The exact number of immigrants that passed through the immigration station is unknown because the fire in 1940 destroyed the Administration Building and most of the immigration records.

The compound was then the briefly used as a detention center  in World War II for the internment of Japanese nationals returning to Japan and WW2 prisoners of war.

The Angel Island Immigration Center was finally closed down and abandoned by the Army in 1946.

The site is now a federally designated National Historic Landmark administered by California State Parks and visited by many visitors and tourists to San Francisco Bay area - who also visit the famous Alcatraz Prison.

US American History
1881-1913: Maturation Era
US Immigration Laws
Ellis Island History

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