A Brief History of the U.S. Immigration Station

Angel Island - Calligraphy U.S.I.S. was a processing point for immigrants arriving to the United States. From 1910 to 1940, hundreds of thousands of immigrants (most of them Asian) came through the Immigration Station.

Enticed by promises of gold and a better life, Chinese began immigrating to the United States in 1848. Soon after, however, discriminatory legislation prevented the Chinese from mining for gold. In addition, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 and essentially froze Chinese immigration. However, this legislation could not keep sons and daughters of U.S. citizens out of the country. People attempting to emigrate from China often became "Paper Sons" and "Paper Daughters" by purchasing documentation claiming that they were children of U.S. citizens, and therefore citizens themselves.

Proving the validity of these claims was difficult, and an interrogation process was developed. The Department of Immigration needed a place to detain immigrants until the interrogation could be complete. In 1905, construction of the U.S. Immigration Station began. It became a detention facility, where Asian (primarily Chinese) immigrants were detained until they could prove they were joining relatives already in the country. 

The average detention lasted two to three weeks, but many lasted several months. Some people were forced to stay for nearly two years. Detainees found ways to pass the time, attempting to lead as normal a life as possible. Many coped with their stay by writing poetry on the walls of the detention center. 

These now-famous poems serve as beautiful testaments to many facets of the immigrants’ experiences, such as the reasons they came and how they felt once they arrived. Their stories are vivid, emotional reminders of disappointment and struggle in a search for a new life in a new land. These poems covered the walls of the barracks, no doubt providing inspiration and comfort to the detainees that followed.  

For the first time ever, all areas within the historically significant barracks (where the priceless poems etched into the walls are located) will be open to the public. 

To learn more about U.S.I.S., visit these websites

Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation: www.aiisf.org
Angel Island Conservancy: www.angelisland.org
California State Parks: www.parks.ca.gov