The alien files or a files: the missing link.

Author:Lew, Jennie F.
Position:7H Panel

Florence Tu, Moderator

This presentation will showcase a new, as yet barely explored "source frontier" in American immigration and ethnic and family historical research: the huge U.S. government investigative case file group known as Alien Registration Files or A Files, which encompass the fabric of America with immigrants entering from every country worldwide. In Chinese American Studies, these files contain informational and evidentiary documents that are vital for family historians and essential for understanding such subjects as American immigration policy/practices and the Chinese diaspora, as well as many other social science areas.


Daniel Nealand

The National Archives and Records Administration conducts "appraisals" of "current use" and longer-lasting historical values for U.S. government records. Enduring public historical research possibilities play a major role in determining which federal records will be kept forever and become part of the National Archives. Approximately 2 percent of federal government records are appraised as having permanent historical value. Traditionally, twenty to thirty years after creation, these are supposed to--and often do--go into the custody of the National Archives for preservation and public research.

Under the Alien Registration Act of 1940, all aliens in the United States were required to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (today the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service). Investigative files created for every alien registered were called Alien Registration or A Files. In the 1950s, INS headquarters decentralized and consolidated A Files with many older files at its field offices. Beginning in 1956, records of any active INS investigation were "uploaded" into A Files.

In following decades, the value and volume of A Files--the main file system for all INS activities regarding immigrants--increased dramatically. In 1998, A Files at most NARA Federal Records Centers, except for those still stored at FRC San Bruno, were relocated to a central FRC in Missouri. All A Files remain covered by an older appraisal calling for destruction seventy-five years after closing.

Regional research communities know that NARA-USCIS now favors permanent retention for the A Files. However, they differ with NARA-USCIS's proposal to transfer to the National Archives only A Files covering persons born 105 or more years prior to...

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