Erika Lee and Judy Yung: Angel Island's History Offers Lessons on Immigration Policy





[Erika Lee is associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota. Judy Yung is professor emeritus of American studies at UC Santa Cruz. They are the authors of the forthcoming book, "Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America."]

...Built to enforce laws that specifically excluded Chinese and other Asian immigrants from the country, the Angel Island Immigration Station turned away countless newcomers and deported thousands of U.S. residents who were considered risks to the nation or had entered the country with fraudulent papers. For those who were denied entry because of race and class-biased exclusion laws, Angel Island showed America at its worst as a gate-keeping nation....

Some who spent time on Angel Island went on to become notable figures. Karl Yoneda was a prominent labor organizer on the West Coast. Alexandra Tolstoy, youngest daughter of Leo Tolstoy, founded the Tolstoy Foundation and assisted thousands of refugees from Europe during World War II. Dong Kingman became an artist and lecturer well known for his watercolors....

Now, on its centennial, it offers a timely lesson as America once again turns its attention to the debate on immigration reform. Last month, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced a new comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House. President Obama has pledged to take up the issue early this year. The issues are complex and the emotions are high. The country, entrenched in a global recession and suffering unemployment rates that are the highest they have been in decades, remains divided over possible solutions to our immigration problem....

America's contradictory relationship to immigration is written on the walls of Angel Island. We welcome the "huddled masses yearning to be free," but at the same time, we unfairly detain and deport immigrants based on flawed immigration policies.

On this landmark date in our immigration history, we should remember Angel Island's multiracial history of inclusion and exclusion and recognize that there is no more time to waste. It's time to fix immigration and fulfill America's promise as a nation of immigrants.



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