Migrant Detention: From McNeil Island to Mexico

  • Kate and Megan at Instituto Nacional de Migración archive
  • Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores archive Mexico City

Migrant Detention: McNeil Island to Mexico

Project Abstract

[caption id="attachment_901" align="aligncenter" width="3264"]Kate and Megan reading documents at SRE archive Kate and Megan reading documents at SRE archive[/caption]

In 1875 McNeil Island became a territorial prison for Washington. In the 1880s, just after Chinese Exclusion started, scores of Chinese were held in this prison until the courts ruled that they could be deported back to China in the early 1890s. The remote location made it an ideal place to hold prisoners and also made it difficult for prisoners to have access to legal counsel or to relatives and friends who could help them. In the 1920s and 1930s hundreds of Mexicans were also held at McNeil Island prison before being deported. In addition to Chinese and Mexicans, hundreds of Italians, Irish and other foreigners were incarcerated in this prison.  This study will help us to understand the role that prisons played in regulating migrant labor and restricting their mobility. Furthermore, it will reveal the kinds of cooperation between China, Canada, Mexico and the US government in policing migration.

More about this project

Megan Scott-Busenbark:  Alaskan Native in McNeil Island PrisonCarrie-Sang-Sing

Carrie Sing Sang was a 17 year old Eskimo woman who was arrested for assault with a dangerous weapon and sent to McNeil Island Prison on October 9, 1911 for two years. An Alaska native at the time of her arrest, Sing Sang was sent to McNeil, as all others from the Alaska province before it became a state. However, being a female, there was not suitable housing for her in McNeil and although her mother had also served time and actually died in McNeil, Sing Sang was transferred to the Kansas State Penitentiary to serve her time. As a young Eskimo woman charged with assault, married to a Chinese man and originally from Alaska, she attracted the attention of many newspapers who featured stories about her, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Oregon Daily Journal, The Evening Independent and The Waterville Times. Below is a copy of her mug shots when admitted to McNeil: prisoner 2056.

Kate Wackett: Guatemala and the Mexican Revolution

 Digging through files related to migration and deportation at the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores in Mexico City, we found a thickly bound folder containing correspondence between the Mexican Legation in Guatemala and the Guatemalan and Mexican foreign ministries relating to Mexican citizens kept in Guatemalan jails between 1916 and 1918. Paging through the hundreds of cases, I noticed a repeating pattern of border conflicts, espionage and “revolutionary activity” as motives for incarceration of Mexicans by the Guatemalan authorities. This led me to ponder what was happening on the Guatemalan border during the Mexican Revolution that led to the imprisonment of so many Mexicans, especially belonging to the constitucionalista faction. The US-backed Guatemalan government led by Estrada Cabrera resisted pressures from the Mexican Carranza government for a Central American alliance during the Mexican Revolution. In fact, the head of the Mexican Legation in Guatemala, Manuel Rivas, expressed that Cabrera was an enemy of the Revolution, and since 1910 had directed an anti-revolutionary campaign, supporting the U.S. and members of counterrevolutionary factions. These series of documents provided an interesting perspective on the revolution in Mexico, as it has rarely been explored within a Central American regional context.

On February 1st, 1917 a list was provided by the Mexican Foreign Ministry in Guatemala of the prisoners that were currently held there. In an attached letter to the list, the foreign ministry explains how “in said list it appears that the Mexicans were imprisoned for their supposed participation in the disturbances against Guatemala and that others were accused of espionage.” Included on the list is Jose Nicolas Dominguez, the brother of Senador Belisario Dominguez who was assasinated by Victoriano Huerta (former president of Mexico who the Constitucionalistas wanted to oust.) The reason for his incarceration is declared as unclear, but it is said to be for his affiliation with the Constitucionalistas. It is added that he is presently in a grave state, due to illness and lack of resources for food. The last sentence in his report states, “He was beaten and put in the stocks.”

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work! Please upgrade today!