Yee Ho Lee – Barred by Ears, Saved by Lips

Yee Ho Lee baby photo
Yee Ho Lee Photo, 1918, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Ho Lee file, Box 585, Case 7030/5241.
Yee Ho Lee Ears
Yee Ho Lee Photos, 1933, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Yee Ho Lee file, Box 585, Case 7030/5241.

American-born Yee Ho Lee left the United States for China with her family in 1918 when she was almost four years old. When she returned fifteen years later as the bride of Wong Shew Leung, a Boston merchant, the immigration inspectors did not think she was the person she claimed to be. They wanted her deported. She looked younger than her stated age; her ears did to not match the ears of the child in the photo. According to experts ears of a certain type do not change as one gets older. It was noted that the child had large flat lobes sticking out from the checks but the young woman did not have a distinct earlobe and the ear tapered “gradually from the top to the bottom and coming to a point at the cheek.” They also thought there was a difference in the eyes, the lower lip, the eyebrows and the nose.
Included in the files are exhibits of photographs, her birth certificate, and witness statements from twenty-two Chinese, many of them siblings of Yee Ho Lee. A summary of the case is five pages long.
Chinese Immigration Inspector Ira L. Hazleton was called before the review board. He considered himself an expert in Bertillon work and had about fifteen years’ experience in identification of photographs regarding questioned documents. [See Edward J. “Ed” Steenberg, Saint Paul Police Historical Society, The Bertillon System of Identification”] According to the website,

“Bertillon System was an improvement of identification over simple mug shots and basic physical measurements, and was a forerunner to fingerprinting. It was developed by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon in the early 1880s to increase the accuracy of criminal identification by measuring certain bony portions of the body, including the skull, foot, cubit, trunk and left middle finger. This identification method spread throughout Europe and was introduced into the United States in 1887.”

Yee Ho Lee arrived in Seattle on 21 March 1933 and was held in the Immigration Detention Center on Seattle Boulevard [1933 address]. She was denied admittance on 25 April. It was appealed. There were “Page 1” articles in the Seattle Times about the case on 22 April, 26 April and 16 May 1933 and other unidentified articles in the file. At the bottom of two of the articles there was an ad- –Buy American!— [Oh, irony!]

An appeal was made by Fred H. Lysons, attorney for Yee Ho Lee’s husband and the decision was reversed. The contours of the lips of the young woman were compared to those of the child and it was decided that they belonged to the same person. Yee Ho Lee was finally admitted on 13 May 1933.

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One thought on “Yee Ho Lee – Barred by Ears, Saved by Lips

  1. Fascinating story today. What an inexact procedure, with such significant consequences. I do not see a significant resemblance, nor would I exclude her. All babies look sort of alike. Yes, the ear lobes are different. Guesswork. Thanks for posting these.

    Like

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