Most of the first Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States during the California Gold Rush (1849-50) and were then recruited as a major source of labor in the economic development of the western frontier. With the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Congress restricted the immigration of Chinese laborers and prohibited Chinese immigrants, already in this country, from becoming American citizens. Exempted were merchants, diplomats, ministers, travelers, students, and children of American citizens. Many Chinese attempted to immigrate under these exempt categories which prompted U.S. officials to scrutinize all Chinese immigration documents.
Upon arrival at Angel Island, Chinese immigrants were held in detention barracks for weeks or months until their paperwork was approved. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 when China became an ally of the United States during World War II.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, Japanese immigrants were able to move to the United States without any restrictions. However, in 1923 in the case of Ozawa vs the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that Japanese were ineligible for naturalization. This ruling led to the Immigration Act of 1924 which virtually prohibited Japanese immigration, except women who were married to Japanese men already in the United States. These "picture brides" were allowed to immigrate. In 1925, Japanese immigration dropped dramatically from 8,481 to 682. The annual number hovered around 600 until World War II stopped all Japanese immigration.
Following World War II, the Island was declared surplus and turned over to the State of California and became a state park. The station was abandoned and largely forgotten until 1970 when State Park Ranger Alexander Weiss discovered the scores of poems on the barrack walls. Today, the detention barracks are a museum open to the public.
The National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the California State Parks Department are working on a special joint project to develop a slide show on the history of the Immigration Station. The slide show will be shown in communities around the San Francisco Bay area to educate the public about Angel Island's special history.
The Immigration Station is located about 1 mile east of Ayala Cove, where ferries from San Francisco, Sausalito, and Tiburon land. Access to the Island is also possible by private boat. For more information on visiting Angel Island, visit the Angel Island State Park Web Site.