Thursday, August 13, 2009

Government won't use old immigration data against long-time U.S. residents; files on 53 million people will be redacted

Health inspectors examine detainees on Angel Island, ca. 1917
Source: The National Archives

Massive release of entry data planned for 2010

Restrictive immigration laws led some Chinese immigrants to lie

Passage of time puts visa violations into perspective

The New York Times reports here that in 2010 the U.S. government will release immigration data on 53 million people, data which has accumulated over decades and was previously available only by cumbersome, piecemeal Freedom of Information Act requests:
Under an agreement signed this year, the files, on some 53 million people, will be gradually turned over by the Department of Homeland Security to the National Archives and Records Administration, beginning in 2010. The material, accounting for what officials describe as the largest addition of individual immigration records in the archives’ history, will be indexed and made available to anyone.
Descendants of Chinese immigrants are fearful of data that could lead to deportation, since the Chinese Exclusion Act forced many Chinese immigrants to lie to gain entry to the U.S.

The article describes one woman's discovery of her own father's deception:
Thelma Lai Chang obtained the 103-page file detailing immigration officials’ interviews with her father, who immigrated from China as a 12-year-old in 1922. Under the Chinese Exclusion Act, most Chinese were then barred from entering the United States, and her father used a fake identity, claiming to be the son of a family already in the country.
For those immigrants who are still alive, the release of this information is potentially dangerous:
For many among a generation of immigrants who dodged the Chinese Exclusion Act by inventing their heritage or spinning elaborate tales of lost documentation, the accessibility is alarming. ... They are afraid, they say, that lies told by young immigrants so many years ago and recorded in the files then could result in deportation now.
The U.S. government, however, is applying the principles of "time heals all wounds" - and the reasoning behind statutes of limitations (principles this site has favored in the context of immigration) - and says it will look the other way:
[O]fficials of the Homeland Security Department say the files will be used for historical purposes, not law enforcement. Further, records will not be released until the immigrant in question has died or turned 100, and the names of the living will be redacted.
Read statements by contemporary opponents of the Chinese Exclusion Act here, here, and here. Excerpts:
That enactments so utterly un-American could have been suffered to pass, appears so extraordinary... (source)

For a century we have accepted the grand announcement as true, that God has made of one flesh all the nations that dwell on the face of the whole earth, and that all have the same inalienable rights. Let us stand by these grand old truths, and bid the Chinaman, the Japanese and all others, welcome. (source)

Whether this statute against the Chinese or the statue to Liberty will be the more lasting monument to tell future ages of the liberty and greatness of this country, will be known only to future generations. Liberty, we Chinese do love and adore thee; but let not those who deny thee to us, make of thee a graven image and invite us to bow down to it. (source)
Maybe this Chinese-American immigration history is another reason why the "anchor baby" argument and acrimony about "illegals" have failed to gain traction.

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