In 1905, construction of an Immigration Station began in the area known as China Cove. Surrounded by public controversy from its inception, the station was finally put into operation in 1910. Although it was billed as the "Ellis Island of the West", within the Immigration Service it was known as "The Guardian of the Western Gate" and was designed control the flow of Chinese into the country, who were officially not welcome with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
This facility was primarily a detention center. Beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a series of restrictive laws had prohibited the immigration of certain nationalities and social classes of Asians. Although all Asians were affected, the greatest impact was on the Chinese.
The first Chinese entered California in 1848, and within a few years, thousands more came, lured by the promise of Gam Sann or "Gold Mountain". Soon, discriminatory legislation forced them out of the gold fields and into low-paying, menial jobs. They laid tracks for the Central Pacific Railroad, reclaimed swamp land in the Sacramento delta, developed shrimp and abalone fisheries, and provided cheap labor wherever there was work no other group wanted or needed.
During the 1870s, an economic downturn resulted in serious unemployment problems, and led to politically motivated outcries against Asian immigrants who would work for low wages. In reaction to states starting to pass immigration laws, in 1882 the federal government asserted its authority to control immigration and passed the first immigration law, barring lunatics and felons from entering the country. Later in 1882, the second immigration law barred Chinese, with a few narrow exceptions. Imperial China was too weak and impoverished to exert any influence on American policy. This law was originally for 10 years, but was extended and expanded and not repealed until 1943, when China was our ally in World War II. However, only 105 Chinese were allowed in legally each year, so the exception process actually continued into the 1950's. Chinese were not on a equal immigration footing with other nationalities until immigration laws were completely rewritten in the mid 1960's.