The A-Files are Coming…A as in Alien

That’s alien as in immigrant, not alien as in extraterrestrial.
Immigration files containing a wealth of information collected by American border agents, some of it dating from the late 19th century, will be opened to the public soon and permanently preserved, providing intriguing nuggets about such famous immigrants or visitors as Alfred Hitchcock and Salvador Dalí.

Under an agreement signed this year, the files, on some 53 million people, will be gradually turned over by the Department of Homeland Security to the National Archives and Records Administration, beginning in 2010. The material, accounting for what officials describe as the largest addition of individual immigration records in the archives’ history, will be indexed and made available to anyone.
These Alien Case Files or A-files as they are commonly referred to, are a key to unlocking the fascinating stories of millions of people who traveled to the United States in search of opportunity. They include information such as photographs, personal correspondence, birth certificates, health records, interview transcripts, visas, applications and other information on all non-naturalized alien residents, both legal and illegal. The files are of particular interest to the Asian American community because many A-files supplement information in Chinese Exclusion Act of 1982, the first significant law restricting immigration into the U.S., era case files (1882-1943) that are already housed at the National Archives.

At present, members of the public typically gain access to the documents, by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request. But that is a cumbersome process that can take months to produce documents — and even then only photocopies, not originals.

Records for all immigrants will not be released until the immigrant in question has died or turned 100, and the names of the living will be redacted.


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