Angel Island
~~ Guardian of the Western Gate ~~

In 1905 construction of an immigration station began in an area known as China Cove on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Surrounded by public controversy from its inception, the immigration center began operation on January 21, 1910, and comprised of a pier, barracks, hospital, utility structures, and a large administration building. Although publically called the "Ellis Island of the West," it was internally called by the INS as the "Guardian of the Western Gate." It's internal moniker reflected that the center existed for the sole reason to control the flow of Chinese immgration that had been oppressed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

As such, the "immigration center" was nothing more then a detention center. A very unsanitary one a that. Numerous examiners found inadequate sanitation, fireproofing, dormitory and hospital conditions. Fresh water had to be brought in by barge to adequately supply the population. It reached the point that in 1922, the whole facility was declared filthy and unfit for human habitation. However, official inertia delayed a decision regarding a move to the mainland.

For 30 years, immigrants from Russia, India, Korea, Japan, Africa, Europe, Australia, the Philippines and other Pacific Rim nations would pass through the Immigration Center at Angel Island. However, Chinese immigrants were always detained the longest. And almost always interrogated because officals worked under the fact that all Chinese immigrants entered false pretences. During the interrogation, they would be forced to answer inane, obscure, and blatanly biased questions such as "What picture is hanging on which room of the house?" or "Where do your family members sleep?". In this, officals hoped to deport as many people as possible. Some committed sucide rather then face a humiliating deporation.

However, one group that could not be deported were those who were, or had a father* who was an American citizen. Since 1868, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship by jus soli (i.e. Automatic citizenship if born in the United States). Also, the children of citizens are citizens, regardless of birthplace. As such, any Chinese who could prove citizenship because of this could not be denied citizenship. However, they could be delayed if the needed witnesses resided on the east coast of the nation.

Those without fathers in the United States often bought falsified documents identifying them as children of American citizens, giving rise to the term "paper daughters/sons." Since offical records usually did not exist, a seperate interrogation process was created to see if they were truly related to the people on the paper. In order to pass the tough examination, they would study the detailed information on the papers to pass.

The massive amounts of immigrants that went through Angel Island created a backlog, people waiting for their interrogation or technicalities would be housed in single sex barracks. A stay at the station, although usually 2 to 3 weeks, could last from months to years. To pass the time, many detainees spent their time etching poetry into the walls of the barracks which reflected the fears and frustrations they endured.

In 1940 the government decided to close down the facility, however, a fire destroyed the Administration Building, hastening its demise. Three years later the Chinese Exclusion Acts were finally abolished. Upon closing of the immigration station, it was returned to the United States Army and became the North Garrison of Fort McDowell with the old detention barracks becoming a Prisoner of War Processing Center where German and Japanese POWs were processed before being shipped to camps in Arizona and other places. In 1942, the North Garrison was enlarged with several more barracks, a mess hall, and a recreation building.

Following the end of the war, Fort McDowell was no longer needed and closed on August 28, 1946, however, in 1954 the Army placed a Nike AA missile battery on the island. Although abandoned after the Nike's became obsolete in 1962, and the missiles removed, the southeast corner of the island that housed the battery remains off-limits to park visitors.

The former base became Angel Island State Park, however, little if any attention was paid to the care of the historic buildings and in 1970 the detention barracks were scheduled for demolition. However, Park Ranger Alexander Weiss discovered the poetry and with his and the efforts of Paul Chow, and the Angel Island Immigration Station Historical Advisory Committee, the barracks were saved from demolition and the California Legislature passed a resolution granting $250,000 to restore the barracks.

Today, the barracks house a museum with a re-creation of one of the rooms, and features some of the poetry found in the building. It echoes with the hardships and descrimination that the Chinese and all races have had to endure in hopes of achiveing a better life in "Gold Mountain."

* Women did not have separate citizenship from their parents or husband until the mid-1920s.

Angel Island, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay, is 740 acres in area and is 788 feet at its highest point, Mt. Livermore. Located one mile south of the Tiburon Peninsula, it stands as a shining example of the limiting factors environments place upon populations. It clearly illustrates the biological principle of carrying capacity and how human interference with the environment can throw the ecosystem out of balance.

Deer were introduced to Angel Island during the early twentieth century by humans. Angel Island, which had not previously been populated by deer, proved to be a welcoming habitat for its new deer population. The deer population growth, left unchecked by a lack of any sort of predator, soon reached a point where the island's florae was no longer a sufficent source of energy for the deer.

The population of deer had gone over the carrying capacity of the island. Meaning that, there were more deer than the island could naturally support.

Confounding the problem were the efforts of several well-intentioned picnickers. These individuals saw the deer, many of which were starving. They began to bring food for the deer. However, despite these picnicker's good intentions, they were really making the problem go from bad to worse. The already over-inflated deer population grew even further.

It was begining to look bad for Angel Island. The deer were litterally stripping the island of all its vegetation. The deer mainly ate the native and imported European grasses, but they also ate other types of vegetation such as elderberry bushes, sagebrush, coyote brush, madrone, oak, and bay trees. This was even more of a problem than it first seems. The vegetation had many roots, when the vegetation died, so did the roots. The roots of the plants were the only thing keeping the soil from eroding during heavy rains. Something had to be done to save the island.

In order to prevent this, the game managers of Angel Island offered the plan of bringing in expert hunters to kill off some of the herd. This plan was protested as being too cruel by the public. An alternate plan was drawn. It called for the importation of coyotes to prey upon the deer and thin the herd. This too, was deemed too cruel.

Eventually, it was decided that 200 of the over 300 deer would be relocated to other locations in California. Shipped and tagged with electronic markers for tracking, many of the deer died. Used to an envrionment of no predators and domesticated by humans that fed them, they were ill-suited to life off the island. Many were soon killed by cars, coyotes, and the like.

Through the history of Angel Island, we can see two main biological concepts, the first being carrying capacity. Carrying capactiy is the maximum number of organisms that can be supported by the environment. At the same time we can see carrying capacity in this history, we notice human interference. We notice how humans introduce deer to an environment without predators, causing the deer population to skyrocket above the carrying capacity of the island. As many of the deer naturally starve, we note further interference by humans; the humans feed the deer. This causes the population to over-inflate even more, and the deer become more and more domesticated. In the end, the deer strip away much of Angel Island's vegetation and become ill-suited for their natural environment due to domestication.


Dr. Steven J. Wolf. Introduction to Ecology. California State University. April 5, 2004.

Cecie Starr and Ralph Taggart. Biology: The Unity and Diversity of Life. United States of America: Brooks/Cole, 2001.

Angel Island Stat Park. California Department of Parks and Recreation. April 6, 2004

Vistor Information. California Department of Parks and Recreation. April 6, 2004

Visitor Information. California Department of Parks and Recreation. April 6, 2004.

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