Earthquake Wipeout
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San Francisco is now remembering the April 18, 1906, earthquake a century ago that leveled much of the city. You could make an argument that America's first illegal alien amnesty was created by that earthquake, which burned many of the city's records, thereby enabling Chinese nationals to claim American birth [Out of chaos came new Chinese America, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/13/06].

Yet when government buildings were destroyed a century ago, so were the birth and immigration records inside. Scores of Chinese recognized the serendipity, claiming citizenship and bringing in their children.

In many cases, for a fee, they also brought in people who weren't their children. Hundreds of those friends and strangers, who came to be known as "paper sons," arrived in the Bay Area in the following decades, changing Chinese America forever.

The Bill Moyers PBS program celebrating Chinese immigration has a film clip explaining paper sons, with no apparent shame that many Chinese committed fraud to enter America. Then as now, the attitude is that immigration is a right of the would-be newcomer, not a privilege granted by the citizens of this nation.

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