Paper-Son’s investigation of Chu You Jee

Although never resolved, the RG-85 case file created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for Chu You Jee speaks to the “paper sons” phenomenon among Chinese immigrants. “Paper sons” purchased identification papers from someone who was able to legally reside in the United States and made them their own. This situation was common in the early and mid-20th century when almost all would-be Chinese immigrants were barred from the US. INS investigated people whom they believed came into the country illegally with false papers. In this case, Chu applied for admission at Ellis Island, arguing that his father, Chu Thaun Yuen, was born in the U.S. In this case, the investigators believed that Chu’s real father was his godfather, Mui Chung Sun.  Chu Thaun Yuen was deceased, and his godfather supported Chu and his siblings.

Chu’s story began in December 1933 when he entered the United States and was held at Ellis Island until he was admitted in January 1934.  His file reflects the process that Chinese immigrants underwent to prove that they could legally reside in the US. Investigators–in hopes that the young Chu’s file would reveal his false identity–used a number of tactics to find discrepancies in his family’s immigration story. This file included pictures, interviews, letters, and certificates that documented Chu’s life and his relationship with his father. The investigators also conducted interviews with Chu and his brothers, Chu You Ngun and Chu You Lai, and asked detailed questions about the Chu family and their place of origin. They asked each of them to identify the people in photographs and questioned them about their hometown, Fook Loon Village. The boys stated that their father, Chu Thaun Yuen, died in China in 1921, but was born in the United States. They told investigators that their parent’s had five children, four boys and one girl. Three of the boys legally resided in the US, and two of them lived and worked in a laundry in Alexandria, Virginia that Mui Chung Sun owned. It was common for Chinese to own laundries, and to live and work in the same space.  Although local whites often looked down upon the practice, it made Chinese more financially successful because they were able to save money on housing.

At the end of the investigation, Chu You Jee was granted admittance and, unbeknownst to him, was a citizen. About a decade later in 1943, Chu applied for naturalization through the US Army, stating in a letter that he was unsure whether he was a citizen or not.

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