Illegal vs. Legal Port of Entry

Many South Asian immigrants sought to immigrate to the U.S. to find better opportunities for employment; for some, when they could not enter legally, they did so illegally. Ram Singh, an immigrant from India, was convicted of smuggling Mexican immigrants from Mexico into Mexicali, California during the Mexican Revolution between 1920-28. He was eventually caught and charged with smuggling and possessing illegal contraband alongside his other conspirators. Ram Singh’s case shows South Asian transnationalism because it shows how South Asians participated in and enabled movement independently of national borders.

A page from File: #55635-3 on Ram Singh. Taken by Paul Hogue

 Another case of interest is that of Wattan Singh. W. Singh was living in Montreal, Canada while waiting for a work visa to train in Camden, New Jersey for his job at “RCA Manufacturing Inc.,” a company that specialized in manufacturing radio electronics. Camden INS commissioner wrote to W. Singh, saying that the purpose of the training was, “opportunity to improve himself in the art of servicing your petitioner’s products, and further of becoming more familiar with such products.”[1] RCA Manufacturing Inc.’s VP wrote a letter of reference W. Singh to aid his case. Charles V. Nellet, the INS inspector for the case, performed a thorough background check on W. Singh and did not find anything and thereby gave his approval. The Washington D.C. INS director J.L. also gave his approval saying, “It is petitioned that the alien be granted a waiver of the excluded provisions of the contract labor section of the Immigration Laws, as one who may be temporarily admitted under the designated status of Student-Laborer.”[2] This approval is important because it is a rare case of an immigrant gaining approval rather than them getting denied then getting arrested for illegal entry. The case of W. Singh represents the globalization of South Asians and their transmigratory patterns because it shows that South Asians are seeking work and education outside of their homeland.

A page from File: #54,734 on Abdul Samad. Taken by Erick Boscana

An exceptionally relevant file is that of Abdul Samad, file number 54,734, who first arrived in the United States in 1914 as a sailor. While in port in New York City, Samad was left behind when the ship he arrived on left because he had to be treated for rheumatism. Although Samad stated that he attempted to find work on another ship, he was ultimately unsuccessful and instead worked various jobs throughout New York City. In 1919, Samad was supposedly hired by the U.S. Shipping Board, who told him that they had a job for him in Montreal to work on an oiler. When he arrived in Montreal, however, the Shipping Board informed him that there was no work for him and paid for him to return to the U.S. through Detroit. Upon re-entry into the United States, Samad was quickly taken into custody by INS, along with five other South Asians who had been traveling from Montreal, presumably in the same situation as Samad. In the following trial, Samad stated that he wished to become a naturalized citizen and wanted to legally enter the United States. As the court did not have an interpreter who could speak Hindu, Samad acted both as an interpreter and defendant. Of the six South Asians, Samad was the only one who wished to remain in the United States and was the only one who could prove that he could speak and read English. When questioned, Samad stated that when he took the job, the Shipping Board assured him that he would not have an issue reentering the country. The judge, in this case, ruled against him and he, alongside the other five South Asians, was ordered to be deported. Samad then hired a lawyer who filed a habeas corpus injunction while Samad was in custody. Eventually, after many delays, the Supreme Court replies to the injunction saying that the case is not within their jurisdiction.

According to the documents in the file, Samad is held for three years before he is given another trial. In this trial, Samad and his lawyer, a different lawyer than who filed the original habeas corpus injunction, argue that Samad is of the Aryan race, much like in the Thind case, and has proved to be a person of good standing and morals while in the United States and therefore he is a worthy candidate for naturalization. While the judge, in this case, appears to be more lenient in the court proceedings, their actual ruling is missing from the case file, leaving the answer up for debate. The next document in the file, however, is a letter confirming Samad’s deportation with the causes listed are that Samad is from one of the barred zones and that he was likely to become a public charge.[3] This case is particularly relevant because of its ties to both the Thind case and the Barred Zone Act as well as illustrating the different ways that immigrants could attempt to begin naturalization and the ways in which they were prevented from doing so. Samad’s case is also interesting because he exited the country and then came back in through a legal channel although he had been staying in the US illegally for five years prior. The involvement of other South Asians in Samad’s case also speaks to the prevalence of South Asians in the workforce and the ways in which their transmigrational patterns allowed them to seek employment throughout the world. 

[1] Margaret, INS commissioner, Camden, New Jersey, May 23, 1939, File 55986-264, INS approval letter, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, (National Archives, Washington D.C.)

[2] J.L., INS District Director, Washington D.C., March 31, 1939, File 55986-264, INS approval letter, records of Immigration and Naturalization Service, (National Archives, Washington D.C.)

[3] File  54,734, Subject and Policy Files, 1893-1957, Records of Immigration and Naturalization Services, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington, DC).

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