The Common Good

Angel Island: History Repeats Itself

Editor's Note: This statement was delivered at an interfaith prayer vigil at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office at 630 Sansome Street in San Francisco, California, on July 1, 2010 on behalf of Chinese-American religious leaders.

My name is Craig Wong, and I represent religious leaders of Chinese ancestry who recognize today's egregious immigration situation as a dark repeat of our own experience in 1900s San Francisco.

Our memory is Angel Island, built in 1910 to tighten the flow of Chinese immigration in a way that was isolated, quarantined, and prevented escape. There, my grandmother contemplated suicide. Unsanitary and crowded, detainees languished in despair for months on end, as described by this poet:

When I arrived in America, all I could do was gaze at the sea in vain. Jail room after jail room, the lock of the gate is secure. Brothers cannot pass one word to each other, separated as if by mountains. The barbarians become angry with us

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