Researching Deportation Records
The USCIS Genealogy mailbox regularly receives questions about locating historical deportation or exclusion records. The question usually follows discovery of a passenger list record or List of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry showing an immigrant excluded and returned, or comes from a family story of a relative deported many years ago.
Not all deportation and exclusion records survive. If, however, the event occurred after 1892 there is a chance records may still exist.
- Deportation is the removal of an alien already in the United States
- Exclusion is the refusal of admission by a Board of Special Inquiry
An Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) deportation or exclusion file, if it still exists, may be found in one of several places depending upon the date and type of action.[i]
Action before April 1, 1944
Deportation and warrant files dating before April 1, 1944 may be found among the immigration case and correspondence files now stored at the National Archives (NARA) in Washington, DC as part of Record Group 85 (Entry 9, RG 85, Records of the INS).
Exclusion files, or files related to a Board of Special Inquiry (BSI) hearing from the first half of the twentieth century, are also part of the same record set at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
When searching for deportation and exclusion files from before April 1, 1944 it is important to remember two facts:
- First, not all of the files survive. Records from most ports were destroyed years ago. Today, exclusion files exist only for cases appealed to INS headquarters in Washington, DC. There is usually no surviving record for non-appealed exclusion hearings, which made up the majority of cases.
- Second, there is no public name index for the INS immigration case and correspondence files at NARA. This makes it difficult to locate an individual immigrant’s records without additional information, such as the date of the action and/or exact cause of the deportation or exclusion.
Researchers have several options for locating INS immigration case and correspondence files by name:
First, some names may be found in the Subject Index to Immigration Case and Correspondence files, 1906-1956, a digitized version of an historical INS index available from the commercial website ancestry.com. The index is name searchable. Each entry in the digitized subject index references case-related correspondence and provides the file number required to request the file from NARA in Washington, DC.
Second, a microfilm version of the same subject index is available from the National Archives (NARA microfilm publication T-458). Because the index is arranged by subject searching for individual names on the microfilm is very difficult. Only a researcher who knows the approximate date of the action, as well as the cause for exclusion or deportation will have any chance of finding an individual immigrant’s name in the subject index.
NOTE: Whether using ancestry.com’s digitized copy of the subject index or the microfilm version available from NARA, researchers should keep in mind the subject index references several file types and not all index entries refer to deportation or exclusion records. It is also important to know that the subject index is not a comprehensive index for deportation and exclusion files. Files may exist for individuals who do not appear in the index.
Third, researchers can submit an Index Search Request to the USCIS Genealogy Program. The Genealogy Program maintains a name index to historical immigration records including the case and correspondence files at the National Archives. If the immigrant was born more than 100 years ago or you can provide proof of death an Index Search Request to the Genealogy Program should return the file citation for a deportation or exclusion file, if it exists. Researchers may then use the citation to request the file from NARA.
Actions since April 1, 1944
On April 1, 1944, the INS began filing all enforcement paperwork in Alien Files(or A-files), single files that included all records of a specific alien. If a researcher believes the deportation took place in April 1944 or later he or she can obtain an A-file number by:
Subject Born More than 100 Years Ago
(or proof of death is provided)
Submit a USCIS Genealogy Index Search Request
Subject Born Less than 100 Years Ago
(and proof of death is provided)
NOTE: While relatively few post-1944 enforcement cases appear in the subject Index mentioned above researchers should consider searching there prior to making an Index Search Request.
Once a researcher has an A-file number the file may be requested from the USCIS Genealogy Program, the USCIS Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program, or the National Archives.
- A-files numbered below 8 million, and documents therein dated May 1, 1951 and earlier, are available from the USCIS Genealogy Program. Proof of death is required if the file subject was born less than 100 years ago.
- Files numbered above 8 million or created after May 1, 1951 require a USCIS FOIA request.
- A small number of A-files for individuals born more than 100 years ago and active since 1975 are now available from the National Archives. To determine whether an alien’s file is among these researchers may search the National Archives ARC database using the alien’s name or A-number.
If you have any additional questions about historical INS deportation or exclusion files, please contact the USCIS History Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sendor Eichen was excluded due to heart disease in 1913. An appeal case file was indexed by name in the INS Master Index (top) and by subject in the Subject Index to Immigration Case and Correspondence files (bottom).
[i]Scattered surviving records of exclusion and deportation created at the port of entry level are not discussed here.