National Archives Opens Immigration Files

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Among those taking part in the A-Files opening were (back row, from left) Philip Choy of the Chinese Historical Society of America and SFSU Asian American Studies; Eddie Wong, executive director, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation; journalist and author William Wong; Sue P. Lee, executive director, Chinese Historical Society of America; (front row, from left) Jeanie Chooey Low, author of “China Connection: Finding Ancestral Roots for Chinese in America” and co-chair of Save Our National Archives; Jennie F. Lew, director of the documentary “Separate Lives, Broken Dreams” and co-chair of Save Our National Archives; Rosalyn Tonai, executive director, National Japanese American Historical Society; Jeremy Frankel, director, San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society; Rep. Jackie Speier; Thomas Mills, chief operating officer, National Archives. (Chris Chow)

SAN BRUNO — The National Archives at San Francisco on May 22 officially opened to the public over 40,000 case files on immigrants to the U.S., and dedicated its research room to the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, who was a leading force in having these files re-designated as records of permanent historical value.

These immigration files, known as “Alien Files” (commonly referred to as “A-Files”), were transferred from U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They are among the first of millions of case files that will eventually be opened to the public.

During the opening, immigration records were viewed for the first time by descendants of early 20th-century Asian immigrants, and demonstrations were given on how to access the immigration files. Speakers included Tom Mills, chief operating officer, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo); Dominick Gentile, chief, Records Division, USCIS; Keaton and Chanteclaire Swett, grandchildren of Rep. Lantos; Jennie Lew and Jeanie Low, co-chairs, Save Our National Archives; Jeremy Frankel, director, San Francisco Bay Area Genealogical Society; and Rick Moss, director, African American Museum and Library of Oakland.

In 1940 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the predecessor of USCIS, started issuing Alien Registration Numbers to resident aliens. On April 1, 1944, INS began to assign these numbers to a new series of immigration case files called A-Files. A-Files are a genealogical wealth of information, containing documents such as photographs, personal correspondence, vital records, interview transcripts, and visa applications.

“The A-Files are a unique resource for family historians, especially the descendants of 20th-century immigrants,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “These records are rich with personal information that will illuminate the journeys of our ancestors — including my own family — and their paths to citizenship.”

A-Files are eligible for transfer to the National Archives 100 years after the birth of the subject of a file. These transfers to the National Archives ensure that these records will be saved in perpetuity and made available to the public for research.

The holdings of the National Archives at San Francisco will include many case files created at USCIS District Offices in San Francisco, Honolulu, Reno, Guam, American Samoa and the American Territories. The National Archives at Kansas City will maintain A-Files for all other INS district offices nationwide.

A-Files may be viewed in person by appointment or copies may be ordered for a fee. Researchers may contact National Archives staff at [email protected] or (650) 238-3501 to search A-Files holdings for a particular file. Beginning Tuesday, May 29, an online database will be available through the National Archives at San Francisco website, www.archives.gov/pacific/san-francisco.

The National Archives at San Francisco is one of 22 facilities nationwide where the public can access federal archival records in person. Its holdings total over 60,000 cubic feet of historical records dating from the 1850s to the 1990s, created by more than 100 federal agencies and courts in Northern and Central California, Nevada (except for Clark County), Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the American Territories. The facility is located at 1000 Commodore Dr., San Bruno, CA 94066. and is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (until 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays). Appointments are strongly encouraged.

Immigrants’ Stories

Antonina Lite Sanchez was born May 8, 1903 in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. In 1928, she married Paulino Sanchez, who later immigrated to Guam and opened a barber shop in Agat, Guam. She remained in the Philippines and worked as a housekeeper. In 1965, she received a visa to join her husband and two sons in Guam. Her Alien Case File includes copies of her birth certificate and baptismal record from her hometown in the Philippines. She died in 1994 in Santa Rita, Guam.

Jesus Garcia Perez was born June 17, 1905 in Durango, Mexico. He came to the U.S. in March 1924 by walking across the border at El Paso, Texas. In 1950, he was living and working in San Francisco as a gluemaker for the Consolidated Chemical Industries. He was married and had eight children. His Alien Case File includes his alien identification card from 1927 and his border crossing card from 1950.

Photographs of Umeyo Kawano and Saikichi Kawano, 1913 (National Archives)

Ok Nam Shin, born May 26, 1901 in Pusan, Korea, came to Hawaii in 1920 to work at his father’s grocery store. By 1933 he was married with four children, all born in Hawaii. The family left for Korea and spent five years there caring for Ok’s parents. When Ok attempted to return to the U.S. in 1938, he was denied entry because his return permit had expired while he was in Korea. With the help of lawyers in Hawaii, he appealed the decision and was granted reprieve. He became a naturalized citizen in September 1962 in Honolulu.

Umeyo Kawano (nee Nakahara) was born March 3, 1889 in Hiroshima. In 1913, at the age of 24, she came to the U.S. as the picture bride of Saikichi Kawano, a farmer in Tulare. The Kawanos raised a family of three sons and five daughters in Selma, Calif. They were interned during World War II at Jerome War Relocation Center in southeastern Arkansas, returning to Selma after the war. Her son Ton served in the military while the family was interned. Kawano died in October 1972 in Selma.

Pasha Semenov (nee Strelkova) was born Oct. 17, 1901 in Tversk, Russia. At the age of 22, on Nov. 1, 1923, she came to the U.S. through Seattle in search of employment as a dressmaker. She married Anatole Semenov in August 1927 in San Francisco, and they had a son in 1934. She became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1965, 42 years after her arrival. She died in 1988 in San Francisco.

Marie Katherine Guenter Weseth was born in Engers, Germany on April 18, 1903. She, her parents, and seven siblings immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island in May 1906. They journeyed across the country and settled at a farm near Tulare, where her father became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1912. Because she was a minor when her father naturalized, she received derivative citizenship from him. In 1963, married and then living in Tiburon, Calif., she applied for proof of her citizenship. She received a Certificate of Citizenship from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

William Jang, also known as Jang Foo, was born Nov. 15, 1890 in Guangdong Province, China. He came to the U.S. abroad the SS Coptic on May 3, 1900, to join his older brother and to study English in San Francisco. He was able to stay in the U.S. as a Chinese merchant, with a share in Sun Chong Company on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. In 1918, he brought his wife Young Shee to the U.S.. They would have eight children. He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., changing his name to William Jang, in October 1959. He died in 1986 in San Francisco.

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  1. Thank heaven Tom Lantos and his colleagues took action to preserve the A Files. They are certainly a vital component of American history. Without this primary source of data regarding the history of immigration and customs on the West coast, we would only be guessing about how immigrants we’re process and handled.the actions. Their actions or inactions had a tremendous impact of all groups who immigrated to America onthe West coast. B

    I personally found out the name of my great grandfather who cam to America in the 1880s in the A files.

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