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).