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Harbin, China to Unknown

1940 Anonymous | Female | 20-39 years old

by Meredith Derecho

Filed under:

Angel Island immigrant: Yes

Place of Origin
Harbin, China

Place of Settlement

According to Erika Lee and Judy Yung in Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, fewer than four percent of Russian immigrants through Angel Island were denied admission as immigrants. We are presenting a story by Meredith Derecho about two of those who were denied, Russians for whom we are using pseudonyms because of the nature of their story. All facts are from a case file at the National Archives and Records Administration in San Bruno, CA; only the names have been changed.

Anna S. and her four-year-old son Ivan arrived at the Angel Island Immigration Station in January of 1940. The overwhelming majority of Russian immigrants who were processed through Angel Island were eventually allowed to enter the country, but Anna and Ivan would be among the unlucky few to be deported.

Sometime in the early 1900s, Anna’s parents migrated to Siberia from elsewhere in Russia in search of land and a better livelihood. They gave birth to two girls: Anna, likely the younger sister, was born in October of 1916. She grew up in Harbin–a large city in northeast China known for its Russian influences–and once worked as a salesgirl at a bazaar there.  Many Russian peasants, political exiles, religious dissenters, and former soldiers left Ukraine and Central Russia for Siberia and the Russian Far East in the early 1900s.

In 1931, Anna met a man named Andrius in a music hall. He was a Lithuanian man 15 years her senior, and he claimed to be unmarried. Andrius owned a lucrative drug store and chemical laboratory, where he made perfumes and cosmetics. He also became a diplomat in 1935.

Anna and Andrius started a love affair that lasted seven years. On July 16, 1935, Anna gave birth to Ivan, their illegitimate son, and Andrius provided for Ivan and Anna financially. Their affair only ended in 1938, when Andrius received word that his father-in-law had died. He and his wife Maria – they had been married since 1922 – decided to travel to the United States to see Andrius’s mother-in-law in California. They eventually moved in to live with her in Berkeley, California.

As Andrius told immigration officers during Anna’s Board of Special Inquiry hearing, he enjoyed living in the United States: “I liked it so much, and I studied the language and I am studying chemistry more now at the present time, too, in Berkeley, and I enjoy the freedom and liberty and everything that we have here in the United States.”

Andrius had left his drugstore and laboratory behind in the hands of a man named Igor, and he continued to provide for Anna and Ivan through earnings from that business. Igor sold the business in 1939, and shortly after, Anna and Ivan took the small amount of money that they had and left Harbin. On December 21, 1939, they boarded the Tatuta Maru from Kobe, Japan, and set sail for the United States.

Immigration inspector Louis C. Vercoutere was not impressed with their economic situation. Anna and Ivan arrived with less than $100, and Ivan, who was four years old at the time, seemed to be in frail health. Anna could only read and write in Russian: her unfamiliarity with the English language would handicap her chances of finding employment.

The inspector decided to detain both Anna and Ivan on Angel Island because they were “likely to become public charges” (abbreviated LPC). This LPC charge was often used to exclude women and children without fathers and husbands to support them from entering the United States.

Anna and Ivan were called for a hearing before a Board of Special Inquiry. Three immigration officers and a Russian interpreter asked Anna questions to decide if she and Ivan should be allowed to enter the United States.

The hearing started on January 11, 1940, and took place over two days. On the first day, Anna presented her story and stated that she planned to visit the United States for no longer than three months and then leave to stay with her sister, who had moved to Shanghai. Anna hoped to leave Ivan with his father, so that he could receive an education in the United States. The immigration officers pointed out that Anna and Ivan both had temporary visas, and Ivan would need an immigration visa in order to live in the US permanently. The officers also pointed out that Anna’s illicit relationship with Andrius posed a problem under Section 3 of the Immigration Act of 1917–people coming for an “immoral purpose” were barred from entering the US.

On the second day, Andrius Ivanov was called in to testify. He and Anna presented very different accounts of their communication between 1938, when Andrius moved to the United States, and 1940, when Anna and Ivan came to join him. Anna spoke of love letters in which Andrius protested her previous engagement to another man, writing, “What is the use to be married? I love you and I will marry you.” Andrius maintained that they had very little contact in the intervening time and that he only knew of Anna’s intent to come to the US because of a recent telegram. He did, however, hope to raise Ivan as his son. He and Maria had been unable to have a child during their 17 years of marriage. Andrius expressed concern that Anna would attempt to break up his marriage with Maria. He further stated that he did not trust Anna to take care of Ivan, and Anna stated that she did not trust Maria.

After the second day of dramatic accounts, the chairman of the Board of Special Inquiry stated bluntly in his summary: “I do not believe that either the applicant or Mr. Ivanov testified truthfully.” He noted that, “It also appears that when Anna S. left China, it was her intention to resume her illicit relations with Mr. I.”

The Board voted unanimously to exclude Anna and Ivan from staying in the United States on three accounts:

“(1) That you are a person likely to become a public charge;

“(2) That your ticket or passage has been paid for by the money of another;

“(3) That you are coming to the United States for an immoral purpose; this is in violation of Section 3 of the Act of 1917.”

Anna could have appealed the case, but she chose not to, most likely because she did not have the funds to pay for a lawyer to represent her.

What were her true intentions for coming to the US?

It is difficult to say for sure, but we do know a little bit of what happened next. According to their immigration files, Anna and Ivan were deported back to Kobe on January 15, 1940. They later immigrated to Brazil in July of 1953, right around Ivan’s 18th birthday. Anna would have been 37, and her immigration certificate states that she was divorced.

Andrius became a chemist again, and in 1949 he was tried for espionage due to his involvement in selling ships for Soviet use. In spite of this, he and Maria lived the rest of their lives in California and eventually became naturalized citizens. It is unclear if they ever had the chance to raise a child.

Anna’s and Ivan’s unsuccessful trip to the United States shows how on Angel Island, United States officials excluded women applicants based on their economic standing as well as their moral conduct. Whereas Anna was punished with deportation for carrying on an illicit relationship, her lover was not.  Immigration policy makers sought to use these standards to shape the American family and the nation.


Yale student Meredith Derecho wrote this story based on a file at the National Archives in San Bruno, CA. Meredith is an East Asian Studies major at Yale, and she focuses on modern Chinese politics. Outside of class, Meredith likes to sing and make new friends. She was an extern at AIISF in 2017.

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