The West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island, the U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island, opened in San Francisco Bay and operated from 1910 to 1940. With the exception of first-class passengers, nearly all trans-Pacific arrivals were transported from their ships directly to the island and subjected to immigration interrogation and medical inspection. Some migrants, particularly those of Chinese-descent, were detained in the facility for more than two years while immigration officials investigated their right to enter.
This detainment was in part attributed to the fact that in 1906, Chinese immigrants were suspected of fraudulent claims of derivative citizenship after a large fire resulting from an earthquake destroyed nearly all of San Francisco’s birth records. The destruction of the birth records allowed many Chinese immigrant men to claim U.S. citizenship for themselves and for their sons in China, working around exclusionary laws that prohibited Chinese immigration (see also:Chinese immigrants face exclusion, 1875-1882). Chinese men who entered the country after the earthquake became known as “Paper Sons.”
The “Paper Sons” phenomenon prompted, in part, the establishment of the immigration station on Angel Island. At Angel Island, immigrants were cut off from the world. Many detainees recorded their experiences on the wooden walls of the detention barracks; some committed suicide.