Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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"Enemy Aliens" on Angel Island

During World War II, there were a number of sites around the country used as temporary detention facilities used to house "enemy aliens" - Japanese, Italian and German immigrants deemed suspicious by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Many of the Japanese immigrants were arrested on December 7, 1941, or soon after. A National Parks Service site quotes Michi Weglyn's Years of Infamy and lists the locations where Japanese were temporarily detained:  "Angel Island, San Pedro, Sharp Park, and Tuna Canyon in California, and Ellis Island, New York, East Boston, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Seattle, Washington." During World War II, Ellis Island was used as a detention center to hold enemy aliens awaiting hearings. In December 1941 Ellis Island held 279 Japanese, 248 Germans, and 81 Italians, all removed from the East Coast," and several hundred detainees were brought to Ellis Island each month.

The history of "enemy aliens" (bear in mind that unlike Europeans, Japanese and other Asians were not allowed to become naturalized US citizens until World War II or afterward) on Angel Island is not well known. Patsy Saiki's Ganbare: An Example of Japanese Spirit, published in 1982, includes a list of ten groups of Japanese immigrants who were arrested in Hawaii and sent to the mainland and another group who was detained in Honouliuli on Oahu for much of World War II. The Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (JCCH) provided further information about these detainees, including those on other islands, and noted in its publications that seven of these groups spent some time on Angel Island and three others went to Sharp Park, in Pacifica, about fifteen miles south of San Francisco. These total close to 700 Japanese Hawaiians who came through Angel Island and close to 200 who went to Sharp Park and are listed in Ganbare!. JCCH also recently released an excellent film, The Untold Story, about Hawaiian detainees and efforts made to restore the World War II facilities, and published two books that include descriptions of Angel Island and mainland Japanese met there (Yasutaro Soga's Life Behind Barbed Wire, translated from the Japanese, and Gail Honda's account of the Otokichi Ozawa family, Family Torn Apart.

Soga, a journalist for Japanese language publications in Hawaii, noted about Angel Island: "Living quarters for all forty-nine of us were two rooms measuring about thirty-six feet by seventy feet on the second floor of an old building that had once been the Immigration Bureau office. Because there were about ninety internees from California already housed there, space was very tight. The beds were trilevel bunks with barely enough walking space in the aisles. There were about ten windows and one ventilator, but with 140 occupants, air circulation was poor. That night I had difficulty breathing and had a headache." Soga spent twenty days in August of 1942 on Angel Island before being sent to Lordsburg and Santa Fe, NM.

AIISF and our researchers on the East Coast, working with the files from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) College Park, MD office, have identified a number of Japanese immigrants from the West Coast, as well as about twenty Germans and twenty Italians who also spent some time on the island. Records do not show the exact time they were on the island, but we estimate that it is between a few days to a few weeks before they went off to Department of Justice camps such as Lordsburg and Santa Fe, NM, Camp Livingston, LA, and Crystal City, TX. So far AIISF researchers have identified about 70 Japanese immigrants from the West Coast who spent time at Angel Island (also known as Fort McDowell) and others who spent time at Sharp Park. Sometimes after many requests and much later in the war, they were reunited with their families at War Relocation Authority camps such as Tule Lake, CA, Jerome and Rohwer, AR, and others. Most returned to their homes after the war, but a number of them returned to Japan and a few died while being detained.

Many of those detained and separated from their families were community leaders, such as journalists, ministers, or those who may have worked with the Japanese government to assist in the immigration of Japanese to the U.S. Others, such as produce and grocery merchants and many others, however, happened to be on membership lists of Japanese maritime organizations after these immigrants made small donations. In 1941, a Japanese admiral was arrested for espionage and had in his possession these lists, which led to FBI files on those on the lists and arrest of many on December 7 or soon after. An oral history of one of these arrested men indicates that he gave to a woman raising funds for one of these causes, after much persistence on her part. He certainly was not involved in pro-Japanese activities or espionage on the West Coast.

Please see the preliminary list of those we believe were detained on Angel Island for at least part of World War II and help us tell their stories.
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