Tens of thousands of old West Coast immigration records the government once sought to throw away will instead become publicly available on Tuesday at a Bay Area archive.

Photographs, letters, health records, interview transcripts and other historical documents were destined for a recycling bin or a remote Midwestern storage facility.

"We changed that plan. We're making them permanent," said spokeswoman Sharon Rummery of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services.

Archivists credit the advocacy of the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and his successor, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, for helping to save the collection.

The documents will be housed at the San Francisco National Archives in San Bruno and open to the public beginning Tuesday.

The lawmakers argued that the Alien Files, known as the A-Files, should be made permanent records of "enduring historical value."

The files are for people from more than 100 countries who arrived, legally or not, on American shores, including many affected by laws excluding Chinese immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Chinese Exclusion Act files were already housed in the archives, but the new collection includes supplemental documents.

The roughly 40,000 files in San Bruno's new collection are specifically for immigrants or foreign visitors who were processed by immigration agents in San Francisco, Reno, Honolulu or Guam. Only pre-1910 files are currently available, but others will be released later. Another 300,000 files for the rest of the country are housed in Kansas City.


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Kept for more than a century in local immigration offices, officials deliberated for years about what to do with the documents until the decision in 2009 to keep them.

Immigration officials originally planned to discard each file 75 years after it was inactive, such as after someone became a citizen, died or was deported, said Marisa Louie, of the National Archives.

"No files were disposed that we know of, but they had those deadlines looming over their head," she said.

This is the second major archival data trove coming to Bay Area genealogists and researchers this year. Millions of personal records from the 1940 census became available last month.

How to SEE the 'A-Files'

Thousands of old immigration records from the so-called Alien Files, or A-Files, will be open to the public Tuesday at the San Francisco National Archives, 1000 Commodore Drive, San Bruno.
Archivists suggest emailing them at afiles.sanbruno@nara.gov or calling 650-238-3501 before traveling there.
By the end of the month, the National Archives will launch a name-based online index to help search for the records at its website: www.archives.gov/pacific/san-francisco.