California Immigration Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Immigration History

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I recently became interested in exploring my genealogy. I was never really interested in it before but as I get older and my relatives get older, I feel it is necessary to find out information before the people with the knowledge are gone.

I have decided to start with what I know best and that is with the immigration documents. Of course, no one in my family has them so I will have to order copies. To my surprise, United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (“USCIS”) has a web page devoted to genealogy research called, “Make A Genealogy Request.” Also, much to my surprise, the website contains clear and detailed instructions on how to obtain records. On this website you can submit a search for records online or you can file a request through the mail. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is the speed at which USCIS processes a request. According to their website on genealogy, requests for records are taking only four months. This is an amazing speed for USCIS and I wonder why other applications are not processed as quickly.

It has been the practice of USCIS to keep some of the files and to send the older ones to a National Records Center. In a new agreement announced today between USCIS and the National Archives, records of individuals who were born more than 100 years ago will now be transferred to the National Archives. They will now be considered permanent records and archived. Once a file is transferred, if will be possible to go to the National Archives in Kansas City or San Francisco (if the immigrant arrived at a port in San Francisco) to see the records. A request may be also submitted by mail.

There are some great resources out there. I will keep you posted on how my search goes.


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There is a question on the N-400, Application for Naturalization, that asks:

Between March 23, 1933, and May 8, 1945, did you work for or associate in any way (either directly or indirectly) with:

a. The Nazi government of Germany?
b. Any government in any area (1) occupied by, (2) allied with,or (3) established with the help of the Nazi government of Germany?
c. Any German, Nazi, or S.S. military unit, paramilitary unit, self-defense unit, vigilante unit, citizen unit, police unit, government agency, or office, extermination camp, concentration camp, prisoner of war camp, prison, labor camp, or transit camp?

Every time I assist in citizenship preparation, my clients ask me why that question is still on the form. I answer that it will not be taken off until every person who it could possibly apply to is dead.

Once in a while, we still hear about people involved in Nazi persecution and our government’s efforts to de-naturalize and deport such people. One of these people is John Demjanjuk. The U.S. government has spent many years trying to deport Mr. Demjanjuk. Mr. Demjanjuk was originally from Ukraine and had served as a concentration camp guard under Nazi rule. He had failed to disclose his past when he entered the United States in 1952. (For an excellent summary of the immigration proceedings, have a look at the Wikipedia site on John Demjanjuk).

On December 28, 2005, an Immigration Judge ordered Mr.Demanjuk deported. He appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. He lost. Unfortunately no country would take him back so the U.S. Government could not deport him. That is, until now. Recently the German government has requested that Mr. Demjanuk be extradited to Germany to stand trial on 29,000 charges of accessory to murder.

Mr. Demanjuk has filed a Motion to Reopen with the Board of Immigration Appeals and recently on April 14, 2009, a Motion for a Stay of the removal order with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. He argues that he is in ill health and that traveling to Germany and standing trial would be a violation of the International Convention Against Torture.

At first I was a little sympathetic to Mr. Demanjuk. He is 89 years old and appears to be in ill health. I do not know why the German government wants to put Mr. Demanjuk on trial now. What will they do if they are successful? Will they carry out an execution? However, the more I thought about it, the more I changed my mind. Mr. Demanjuk is a lucky man, although he might not think so. He has managed to avoid deportation for many years. Even when ordered deported, our government could not carry out the order. Now Germany wants him. He should have been deported several years ago. Many people who have been living in the United States illegally are deported, and they were not concentration camp guards. They were hard working people who only committed the crime of coming to the United States illegally. Mr. Demanjuk, who lied when he came to the United States and committed multiple acts of human rights violations, does not deserve any better by being allowed to stay.

I do not see that travel and a trial in Germany constitute violations against the International Convention Against Torture. Germany will provide him with medical care while he is there. It is probably better than ours. It will be unpleasant to go there and deal with this, but not torture.

Rabbi Hier, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, summed up the reasons for the extradition the best. “His [Mr. Demanjuk’s] defenders say that at 89, he is too old to be deported. His 29,000 victims would have only wished that they would have been so fortunate to reach the age of 89.” (It is worth reading his entire statement on the John Demanjuk deportation).

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Photo by DeusXFlorida

The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), Office of Immigration Statistics, has recently released its report: Naturalizations in the United States: 2008. In 2008, United States and Citizenship Services (“USCIS”) naturalized 1046,539 people. This number is the highest number of people naturalized in one year and broke all previous records. Out of that number, 297,909 resided in California. California’s numbers make up 28.5% of the total number of people naturalized.

The San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metropolitan area was the sixth highest area in terms of where people who naturalized were residing. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area followed closely behind as the ninth highest area.

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Photo by CNR CLLNS

In 1910, an immigration station began operation on Angel Island. At that time, it was used primarily to detain Chinese immigrants. It was touted as the “Ellis Island of the West, because of the location. Angel Island is the largest island in the San Francisco Bay, located one mile south of the Tiburon Peninsula. It is accessible only by commercial ferries and private boats. It was considered ideal because of its isolation. From 1910 – 1940, it was the landing point for most Chinese immigrants and approximately 175,000 people came to Angel Island. According to the website for Angel Island’s Immigration station, the average detention was two to three weeks, but many stayed for months and few were forced to remain on the island for two years.

The station fell into disrepair for many years and the island was used for other purposes. In 2000, California voters passed a proposition to repair the station. It has now re-opened although the renovation process is not yet complete. A museum is now opened in the old barracks buildings. It includes a re-creation of one of the dormitories and features some of the poems that were carved into the walls by people who were detained there.

The Immigration station is worth a visit for anyone wishing to know more about this period in our immigration history. According to the Immigration Station’s website, the museum is open on the weekends from April to November. You can also arrange for a private tour by calling the Angel Island State Park Volunteer Coordinator at 415-435-3522.

If you would like to visit Angel Island, you may travel there by any one of commercial ferries. You can access ferry information and other general information about Angel Island on their website.