Record Group 85 and Paper Families

In 1882, the United States enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, in which all immigration of Chinese laborers to America was banned. Record Group 85, a series of case files maintained by the Immigration Bureau and later the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) mostly on Chinese immigrants, reveal the fears that US citizens held during this period. Whites feared that Chinese Americans were manipulating the system in order to claim false citizenship or permanent residency. This is evident through an analysis of the case on Hong Tow Moy, a nine year old Chinese native. Moy Tow Hong gained citizenship to the United States in 1937 by claiming that his deceased father, Moy Sing, was already a citizen of the country. As Estelle Lau discussed in Paper Families: Identity, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion, Chinese attempted to gain entry into the country by creating paper families after the US created the legal precedent which granted children of US citizens, regardless of their birthplace, citizenship.1

Moy’s file included interviews conducted by the local immigration inspector of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. These interviews portray the distrust the government had toward Chinese immigrants. For example, the interviewer refers to those listed as Hong Tow Moy’s brothers as “alleged brothers.” To find discrepancies, the questions the inspectors also asked were difficult and detailed, particularly for a child of Moy’s age. For example, the interviewer asked the child questions such as where the school he attended, Yung Jen Academy, was located. However, they asked it in a more difficult manner by phrasing it as “do you claim that the school you attended is only 4 or 5 jungs away from your village?” Furthermore, Moy previously responded to a question about his school by answering that his school was 40 or 50 feet from his village. This shows the attempts made by the interviewers to find discrepancies in his answers to prove that he was falsely claiming citizenship. By asking questions such as these, it makes it difficult for them to answer let alone for the families to have the same answers. Despite this rigorous process, Moy Tow Hong was ultimately admitted as a citizen to the United States as the son of a native in 1938.

1 Estelle Lau, Paper Families: Identity, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 5.

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