Paper Sons


“Paper Sons” accounted for a large group of people that attempted immigration to the United States. The term paper sons refers to children to young adults, usually males, that tried to gain admission to the United States through false documentation. These smuggled children claimed to be the sons or daughters of someone already living in the United States typically a native born citizen or merchant. The immigrants would purchase information that provided them with a false identity connecting them to a resident of the United States that they would need to memorize in order to pass questioning. The height of the paper sons movement was in 1906 due to an earthquake that destroyed the Chinese immigration records making it easier for immigrants to falsify documentation.

Paper son habeas corpus cases are often very similar in nature and are typically identifiable by the intense questioning process involved in their cases and usually the corresponding decision of the courts for deportation. Immigration official’s used intensive and harsh interrogation specifically to identify the fabricated relationships. Many Chinese immigrants were excluded or deported solely because of small discrepancies between involved interrogations or because the officials felt there was a lack of resemblance between the parties of the alleged relationship. Most immigrants were excluded because the relationship could not be confidently established by immigration officials and during a time when the Chinese were legally excluded through the Chinese Exclusion Act and various related laws, there was no reason for officials to want to help the Chinese gain access.

Case File: 55,245-403 Yep Gan

Photo taken at the National Archives
by Erin Andrewlevich

In 1923 at age 16, Yep Gan traveled to the United States from China, seeking admission to the country by access of an alleged father, Yep Ying who was a native United States citizen and a resident of the state of Michigan. Though the citizenship status of the alleged father was confirmed, Yep Gan was ultimately excluded from entering the United States because the relationship between him and his alleged father could not be confidently established by immigration officials. This was because during Yep Gan’s interrogation the immigration officials found that there were discrepancies between the testimonies of Yep Gan and Yep Ying. The father, Yep Ying, had previously testified on behalf of another son 1907 and in 1913 and had already claimed that he had only had one son. Now, in 1923, he was claiming to have more than one son which ultimately was the reason that Yep Gan was deported. Discrepancies during the interrogation process were enough cause for a Chinese immigrant to be excluded and Yep Gan’s case is one of a typical paper son file.

Case 55,245-570: Moi Dick Hong

Moi Dick Hong is a similar and typical paper son case. In 1923 at 16 years old, Moi DIck Hong tried to gain entry through his merchant father, Moi Yiu Teung, who was living in the United States. He was excluded for discrepancies between his testimony and the testimony of his alleged father. These discrepancies were about the year that Moi Dick Hong’s grandfather/Moi Yiu Teung’s father had died which had varied during different testimonies. Another discrepancy which was brought up by immigration officials was the material of the floor from the house in China that they were asked about. One had claimed it was was of “earth” while the other claimed it was “tile” and then this answer changed during other interrogations. The immigration additionally found it suspicious that the “parties concerned seemed willing to change their testimony in order to bring themselves into agreement”. Moi Dick Hong’s case shows the intensity of the interrogation process at Angel Island and exactly the type of slip ups that immigration officials looked for in their search for paper sons.


Lee, Erika and Judy Yung. Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Yep Gan. File 55,245-403, subject correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington D.C).

Moi Dick Hong. File 55,245-570, subject correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington D.C).


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