Category Archives: Citizenship Act of 1934

Benjamin Chi’s long fight to stay in the United States

Chi Benjamin 1941 photo
“Photo of Benjamin Chi, Precis of Investigation,” 1940, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Chi Po Shen (Benjamin Exner Chi) case file, Seattle Box 365, file #7027/1110.
See blog entry for 3 December 2018 for information on Emily Green Exner Chi and her children Benjamin, Sylvia, and Vernon Chi who arrived at the Port of Seattle on 13 February 1941. Emily, Sylvia and Vernon were admitted as U.S. citizens; Benjamin was not. Benjamin’s case is complicated and this blog entry will explain what happened.

The Citizenship Act of 1934 was signed by President Roosevelt on 24 May 1934. The Act allowed any child born outside the limits of the United States, whose father or mother at the time of the birth was a citizen of the United States, to be a citizen of the United States.1 Benjamin was born in 1933. His siblings were born after 24 May 1934. Their mother was a U.S. citizen and they were all born in China. His siblings were considered U.S. citizen; Benjamin was not.

Benjamin Ch’i or Chi, Chinese name Po-Shen Ch’i, was born in Tientsin, China on 18 June 1933. He was issued Section Six Certificate #901 on 5 December 1940 by the Bureau of Police at Tientsin where he was attending Chiu Chen Primary School. When he entered the U.S. at Seattle in February 1941 he was classified as a temporary visitor under Section 3(2) of the Immigration Act of 1924.

Benjamin’s temporary visa was renewed several times. If his visa could not be renewed he could be deported. His mother and younger brother and sister were considered U.S. citizen and wanted to stay in the U.S. because of distressing conditions in China [World War II]. Benjamin was 12 years old; he could not be sent back to China on his own. If he was deported his mother and siblings would need to leave too.

In February 1946, Benjamin’s mother wrote to Immigration. She was trying, once again, to renew her son’s temporary visa. In December she had sent his Chinese passport to the Consulate in China to renew it. Three months later she still had not received the renewed passport and now she did not have the necessary papers to renewal his U.S. temporary visa.

Although the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, there was now an extremely restrictive quota—only 105 Chinese were allowed into the U.S. Letters between Mrs. Chi and Immigration went back and forth and a warrant of arrest was issued for twelve-year old Benjamin in May 1946. The deportation order was suspended four months later. In February 1947 the Central Office of Immigration informed the Seattle office that the alien was no longer a quota immigrant chargeable to the quota of China. Benjamin Chi was allowed to stay in the United States. The long struggle was finally over.

1. Orfield, Lester B. (1934)”The Citizenship Act of 1934,” University of Chicago Law Review: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1 , Article 7. http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclrev/vol2/iss1/7

Emily Green Exner Chi, Sylvia and Vernon Chi – Northfield, MN

Chi Emily Sylvia Vernon 1941
“Photo of Emily Green Exner Chi with Sylvia and Vernon Chi ,” 1941, Chinese Exclusion Act case files, RG 85, National Archives-Seattle, Chi Sylvia B case file, Seattle Box 825, file #7030/13532.

Emily Green Exner Chi and her children Benjamin, Sylvia, and Vernon Chi arrived at the Port of Seattle on 13 February 1941. Emily, Sylvia and Vernon were admitted as U.S. citizens; Benjamin was not. Benjamin’s case is complicated and will be dealt with in a later blog entry.

Emily’s Chinese name was Chi Ne Mei Lan; Sylvia Blythe Chi was Chi Po Ya; and Vernon Longstreet Chi only had a Chinese surname. They all had valid U.S. passports issued at the consulate general at Tientsin, China. Emily Green Exner, a Caucasian, was born on 8 November 1904 in Northfield, Minnesota. She married Chi Shou Yu (English name: Hilary) on 18 September 1932 at Northfield. Her husband, a citizen of China, was admitted at the Port of Seattle in 1929 with student status. They left for China a few days after their wedding. Emily did not lose her citizenship due to her marriage to an alien ineligible to citizenship because of the 1922 Cable Act and a 1931 update.

“… That no woman who was a national of the United States shall be deemed to have lost her nationality solely by reason of her marriage to an alien on or after September 22, 1922, or to an alien racially ineligible to citizenship on or after March 3, 1931, or, in the case of a woman who was a United States citizen at birth, through residence abroad following such marriage, notwithstanding the provisions of any existing treaty or convention1…”

Sylvia and Vernon Chi were born in Tientsin, China in 1937 and 1940, respectively. The Citizenship Act of 1934, Section 1993 said that a child could acquire U.S. citizenship through the mother, not just the father. There are other provisions but this was the part of the Act that pertained to them at their young ages.2

(More about this Act in Benjamin Chi’s upcoming blog entry.)

Mrs. Emily Chi does not have a separate file but since her children were so young, ages 3 and 1, she was interviewed. This information was gleaned from her interview: Her father, three brothers, and brother, Frederick S. Exner and his wife were present at her wedding. For the past eight years her husband was a manager for a manufacturer of sporting goods and they planned to employ up to 100 men. The factory was broken into three parts because of the Japanese occupation. His salary was a hundred Tientsin dollars a month with an annual bonus of 10,000 Tientsin dollars. Emily was coming to visit her elderly parents before they died and the State Department was insisting that women and children leave China [because of the war]. She and her husband owned a farm outside of Tientsin that they rented out. She was planning on visiting her brother, Dr. Frederick B. Exner, in Seattle and her father Franz Exner, a Ph.D. and her mother Hannah Blithe Exner at 100 Nevada Avenue, Northfield, Minnesota. Her mother was in poor health and Emily hope to stay about a year; applying for an extension if needed. Emily originally went to China when she was about 20 to teach in the Yu Ying School in Peking. She taught there three years and met her husband there. Her husband, Chi Shou Yu, (Seattle file 11476/1-1) was born in Wu Ching Hsien district, Man Shuang Miao village, Ho Pei providence. He studied chemistry at Cartleton College in Northfield, MN for the three years before they married.

Emily Green Exner Chi and her children Sylvia, and Vernon Chi were admitted as U.S. citizens on their day of arrival. There is no further information in the file.

1. “Title 8 – Aliens and Nationality, Chapter 12 – Immigration and Nationality, Subchapter Iii – Nationality and Naturalization, Part III – Loss of Nationality, § 1489. Application of treaties;  exceptions,”  https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/pdf/uscode08/lii_usc_TI_08_CH_12_SC_III_PA_III_SE_1489.pdf

2. Orfield, Lester B. (1934) “The Citizenship Act of 1934,” University of Chicago Law Review: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1 , Article 7. http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclrev/vol2/iss1/7