More Canada: The Komagata Maru

Lest we assume that the US has a monopoly on discriminatory immigration policies in North America, let us remember our brothers to the north, and the way that they treated Indian immigrants in the previous century:

On May 23rd, 1914, the Komagata Maru entered Burrard Inlet carrying 
376 passengers looking forward to starting their lives in Canada. The 
ship and those on board arrived despite the recent introduction of 
Canada’s discriminatory Continuous Passage Regulation, a law that 
required immigrants to Canada to arrive by a single, direct journey 
from their country of origin. Because no direct route between the Dominion of Canada and British 
India existed, this policy was a roundabout means to exclude Indian 
immigration and preserve — in the words of a popular song of the 
time — “White Canada forever.”

Like the Canadians on shore, all Komagata Maru passengers were 
subjects of the British Empire and many had fought for Britain, upholding the very freedoms they now desired. Upon arrival, the passengers were immediately detained by Canadian immigration authorities determined to keep the ship at anchor. Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet became the 
flashpoint for a standoff that gained international attention.

Their inability to land caused hardship for the passengers, who soon 
lacked food and water. The passengers were also denied access to 
medical attention, communication with their family and proper legal 
counsel. Their challenge to Canada’s right to deny their landing was 
delayed and eventually denied. On July 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru 
passengers were forced to leave Canada.

– From

Recognizing “Modern Families”? That’s Cool

 Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday that she will instruct immigration agents to consider same-sex relationships the same as heterosexual ones in determining whether an individual should be deported, a victory for advocates and members of Congress who worried verbal instructions could be ignored.

Like the title says, that’s cool. I’m not going to get too congratulatory. Rather, I say, “Yeah, they are. Thanks for noticing.” But officially noting that same sex families are honest to goodness loving families (or have the potential to, just the same as hetero families are never perfect) is progress.

An Act of Regret

This week is shaping up to be incredibly historic. Today, the Senate plans to pass House Resolution 683, a formal recognition that the Chinese Exclusion Act was at least kind of messed up.

The word apology isn’t in the resolution, which you can read here, but it does “regret the passage of legislation that adversely affected people of Chinese origin in the United States because of their ethnicity” and acknowledge that the Chinese Exclusion Act, and other pieces of legislation “enshrined in law the exclusion of the Chinese from the democratic process and the promise of American freedom“.

You can also listen in here as the House of Representatives (hopefully and probably) passes the resolution.

Does this really matter? I don’t know. Three years ago today, the Senate passed an apology for slavery in the United States, and as far as I can see, it had very little affect. This piece of paper is not an apology or an atonement. It’s an acknowledgement. In official, government supported words, it clearly lays out what many of us already know– that the United States took great measures to recruit cheap Chinese labor, then deny them the right to vote, become citizens, travel freely, testify in court, or bring their families to the US. And that these policies excluding Chinese from immigrating to the US remained in place from 1982-1942, a time when immigrants from the Western Hemisphere were allowed to come freely to the US. It’s better than nothing, and better late than never. But not by much.


Patterns of Immigration, Response

Treating people of color like they aren’t American is nothing new. Neither are illegal raids looking for undocumented immigrants. Today we’re visiting the turn of the last century, another time when the immigration debate was heating up.


In 1903, immigrants from Asia were the big scaries, and the US government was passing laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) to keep them out. Chinese and Chinese Americans were settling in Boston, near the city’s bus terminal. The neighborhood they built was called Chinatown.


A murder within the community brought more attention than usual to Chinatown. The police and Immigration Bureau say this as a perfect opportunity to conduct a raid because most Chinatown residents and a lot of Chinese from outside the city went to the funeral in the morning, then came back to the neighborhood to hang out that night. The police and immigration officials busted through the neighborhood, arresting anyone who couldn’t produce their papers immediately, including people who had left them at home and American born citizens.


It’s a pretty ridiculous incident, and part of a pattern of police intimidation and disregard for the laws they are employed to defend. And yet, we didn’t talk about it at all in my Asian American Studies classes. Maybe because so much of AsianAm is West Coast centric. For more on the raid, check out this article from Amerasia journal’s vol. 22, num. 3– The Eagle Seeks a Helpless Quarry, by K. Scott Wong.

Deportation and Citizenship

This article popped up on New America Media, about a woman facing deportation in Arizona. She was adopted from South Korea as an infant and while she has never been back to South Korea, she never became a US citizen either. This means that after being convicted for theft a second time, she was eligible to be deported. And that’s exactly what ICE intends to do.


On a humanitarian level, it seems wrong to send a woman who has lived as an American since she was 8 months old “back” to a country where she has no contacts and can’t speak the language. She’s also a single mother with three American born children. On a legal level, doesn’t it seem like the punishment doesn’t fit the crime? She served her time for her crimes.


I don’t like to make generalizations about the law based on one case. There are always exceptions to laws, which is why judges should be allowed discretion. But the deportation of adoptees, many of whom have tried to apply for citizenship or don’t know that they’re not citizens, is surprisingly common. A partial list is available at

DREAM, Come True

I got this email from my friend Sam last night, after the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youths who have been living in the US, if they go to college or the armed forces. He explains why you should support the act succinctly and eloquently, so rather than try to top him, I’m going to put up his email. Call your senator(s) today!

The US House of Representatives just passed the DREAM Act with a close vote of 216-198, which gives it a glimmer hope this year for our government to grant opportunity to 2 million+ undocumented youth, brought to this country as children and feel every bit as an American besides the legal sense, a path towards legal residency once they complete at least two years of college or military service. (With requirements such as not getting into trouble, waiting for 10 years before getting a green card, passing security checks, etc.)

Here’s a blog post, which includes links to various op-eds from publications and authors of various political orientations:

Also, a fact sheet here:

In my mind, the DREAM Act makes social, economical and humanitarian sense. It incentivizes youth toward higher education or military service with the chance to earn citizenship. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office also estimated that the DREAM Act will ease the federal deficit to the tune of $1.4 billion over the next 10 years. More importantly, this will give opportunity to a group of young people who obeyed their parents when they were brought here, who call this country home, who have tried to do everything right by working hard, graduating from high school, contribute to their community, and aspiring to attend college or serve in the military. Lastly, need I not mention compassion?

The biggest hurdle now is the US Senate. The vote is scheduled for Thursday. If you want to see this happen, please urge Senator Brown to vote ‘YES’ on the DREAM Act, and thank Senator Kerry for his support.  Call your senator at 1-866-996-5161

Thousands of youth, some of them might be your neighbor, student or friend – are all counting on you. They are ready to learn, serve, and be good citizens – give them a chance to DREAM!

In solidarity,