"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.
One 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.
The 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."
Immigration 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 America. 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 http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/53-questions-that-a-life-may-depend-on/?hp.
The 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,