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Illegal Chinese immigration

In 1882, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Thousands of Chinese workers recruited to build the transcontinental railroad were denied residency in the United States after the work was completed.

Drawing showing that the door to freedom remains closed for the Chinese, while communists, nihilists, socialists, fenians and thugs are all welcomed.

For more than 60 years the Chinese Exclusion Act (in effect from 1882 to 1943), caused many Chinese to attempt to enter the United States illegally.


Chinese applicants for citizenship are sent to detention centres. One is located on Powell Street in Richford. Some try to cross illegally into Canada instead of waiting. Good Samaritans are helping them on both sides of the border.

Hideaways also existed on this side of the border. Iboya Szabo-Hancock tells how her husband’s family was surprised to discover illegal Chinese immigrants in the basement of their Abercorn home. There was even a piano dealer who hid illegals inside his pianos.

Iboya Szabo-Hancock recounts what she heard about Chinese immigrants (captions available in both French and English). View the video with an English transcript.

Canada passed similar legislation in 1923. Nancy Shepard-Douglas told us that her father had a summer job in the mid-1920s escorting Chinese students by train from Montréal to Vancouver to ensure that they returned to China after their studies.

It’s difficult to measure the extent of this illegal immigration, which sometimes involved unscrupulous smugglers.

André Bessette recounts a horror story that occurred on Lake Champlain.

André Bessette describes the atrocities committed against the Chinese (captions available in both French and English). View this video with an English transcript.