Of all of the files I viewed this latest trip to the National Archives, I found only one that related to South Asian immigration. The file is a table of all of the number of immigrants admitted into the country from each geographic region in relation to the quota established in the 1924 National Origins Quota Act. The file contains multiple copies of the tables for 1931 and 1932 along with a table recording the number of immigrants and emigrants each year after 1921. The 1931 table records the nation of origin, the quota for that nation, and the number of immigrants admitted per fiscal year; the 1932 table includes all the above in addition to the number of immigrants admitted per the calendar year. The file also includes a few copies of the 1931 and 1932 tables that have handwriting. One copy of the 1932 table has the handwritten inclusion of the number of immigrants admitted in February 1932, one copy of the 1932 table has an unspecified column added, and a copy of the 1931 table includes a column tallying the number of immigrants admitted per the calendar year. Unfortunately, the documents do not break down the division of which immigrants came from which port of entry nor in which office this table was compiled, but it can be assumed that the table was made in the central D.C. office based on the context of the document. These documents are interesting because they show for neither 1931 nor 1932 did Indian immigration hit the quota limit of 100. The records also show the effect of the National Origins Quota Act as well as the Great Depression. Interestingly, in the document recording immigration numbers pre-1930, South Asians were not separated from Asians in general, indicating that there was a change in how the categories divided.
File 55,775-593, Subject and Policy Files,
1893-1957, Records of Immigration and Naturalization Services, RG 85 (National
Archives, Washington, DC).
This week while researching I discovered a file regarding a South Asian who INS was attempting to deport. The immigrant, named Harry Singh who landed in Philadelphia, PA, on the 31st of January, 1923. Harry Singh’s case is interesting because upon landing he was taken to the hospital for “chronic suppurtive ottis media and chronic mastoiditis of the left ear, associated with severe pain in the head suggestive of intracranial complications.” The file regarding H. Singh, therefore, contains a series of letters back and forth between the INS office and H. Singh’s doctor, J. Clarence Keeler. The letters also concerned a bond to be furnished to ensure that H. Singh will not attempt to flee after leaving the hospital. Frustratingly, the file lacks anything other than the letters between the INS office and the doctor so it is difficult to tell if there was an appeal on the behalf of H. Singh for him to remain after he had recovered or any other result. The file does end with a document certifying that H. Singh has left the U.S.A. but there are no other documents regarding the case between when the doctor appealed for him to remain for treatment and recovery and when he left. Because there are no court recordings or other records of H. Singh’s arrival it is difficult to tell if he came to the U.S.A. seeking treatment, if he had been injured as a sailor and only wished to stay until he had healed, or if the entire ‘injury’ was a fabrication to allow him to sneak into the U.S.A. with the help of Dr. Keeler. There is also no record of who paid for H. Singh’s bonds, whether it be a kind benefactor, H. Singh himself, or a shipping company. Interestingly, this case occurs just a year before the National Origins Act is signed. The timeframe here is interesting because would H. Singh have arrived just a year later he might not even have been able to obtain medical attention from a landside doctor. Key here is also the port of entry; H. Singh did not enter one of the larger ports for immigrants, such as Angel Island or Ellis Island, hinting that perhaps he was not truly an immigrant but just happened to have to come ashore. In all, this file raises more questions than answers but provides an interesting look at the transitory nature of some of the South Asian immigrants/visitors to the U.S.A..
My first impression of the National Archives was the level of bureaucracy and red tape at every level, which honestly should not have surprised me given that it’s part of the federal government, It truly seemed as though you could not go anywhere in that building without encountering a scanner or someone waiting for you to sign in or a guard eyeing you warily; although I appreciate the dedication to the security and sanctity of the Archives and their contents, I was not comforted by the idea that no matter where I went there were cameras recording my every move. When we finally arrived in the research room we were met with even more rules and standard practices, down to how you arrange your desk. All of this was quite an overwhelming experience but I was soon able to adjust.
As for the records themselves, my first box was quite frustrating because it did not contain any records on South Asians. That first box did help me discover how to best screen each record for content and to determine if it would be useful to our project. Thankfully, I had a lucky break in my second box, where I discovered a rather large file on a few different cases regarding South Asians. The case regards six South Asians caught in Detroit in July 1919. After a brief court trial, in which only one of the six speaks English and only two are represented by an attorney, the six of them are ordered deported. The one who can speak English, Abdul Samed, who was also the one who obtained the attorney was the only one to file an appeal against this decision. Over the next two years, Samed remains in jail while his attorney files a habeas corpus injunction in an attempt to gain Samed’s freedom. The injunction is massively delayed and in 1922, Samed obtains another attorney who inquires about the case and manages to get Samed another trial. In this trail, Samed is presented alongside another group of South Asians, who are not the same people as his original trial, and the judge ruled for the deportation of the group and to allow Samed to remain in the U.S.. Interestingly this file shows evidence of the influence of the Barred Zone Act on how Samed is presented and shows many different individuals and their reasons for coming to the U.S. and how many of them did not intend to immigrate but got left behind from their ships. 1
1 File 54734, Subject and Policy Files, 1893-1957, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington, DC).