The History and Future of Angel Island's Public Service Hospital

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Opened in 1910 as part of the new immigration station, the Public Service Hospital (PSH) provided medical services for immigrants detained at the station, but also played a key role in determining who might be allowed to enter the country.  New arrivals were subjected to a medical examination at the PSH to determine whether they had any contagious diseases or physical defects.

In addition to the standard medical examination, Asian immigrants were examined for traces of parasitic diseases like hookworms and liver flukes, which required blood and feces samples. In the early years, typically 10-15% of immigrants were found to have medical problems. Those with incurable conditions or who could not afford the cost of medical treatment at the hospital would be deported. Asian Immigrants in particular described the examination process as invasive, humiliating and unfair.

The immigration station, including the PSH, was closed in 1940 and left abandoned until the site was saved from demolition by the local Asian American community. In 1976, California appropriated $250,000 for repairs at the immigration station, beginning with the barracks building. With federal, state, and private funding, site restoration began in 2005, closing access to the public until much of the site and barracks building was reopened in 2009. Restoration of the PSH was only started in 2014 and will be re-opened to house the new Pacific Coast Immigration Center (PCIC) in 2020.

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The PCIC will contain interpretative displays depicting the historical role of the PSH at the immigration station as well as exhibits covering more contemporary immigration history.  A wide range of personal stories, including those of recent immigrants, will allow visitors to understand the impact of shifting policies, from the past to the present, affecting immigration across the Pacific to the United States, especially to California, where more than a quarter of the population is now foreign-born.

AIISF is planning a public opening celebration in Fall 2020 for the PCIC - a day to remember the legacy of Angel Island and all immigrants across America.

Russell Nauman