McNeil Island prison was the first federal penitentiary in the U.S. West from its founding in 1875 through the 1930s. Thousands of immigrants were imprisoned there for violations of immigration laws, and also for drug and alcohol charges. It was at McNeil Island that in the late 1880s scores of Chinese were sentenced to six months hard labor for merely being present in the country without authorization, an offense that was not (and still is not) a criminal offense. This article reveals that the overlap between immigration and criminal law, known as crimmigration, began at the dawn of immigration enforcement.

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