Students, Alumni Cast in Chy Lung v Freeman Reenactment

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Albany Law School students recently participated in a reenactment of a historic case, Chy Lung v. Freeman, which is often used to educate about immigration processes.

The reenactment of the 1875 trial was held at the James T. Foley Courthouse and was performed to an audience of primarily high school students.

Thirteen Albany Law School students were cast in the production. Cameron Bishop ’24, Polly Boyle ’24,  Noah Chase ’24, Priscilla Capuano ’24, Edwin Graham (Conor) ’24, Maxwell Kissack ’25, Julia Monahan ’24, Matthew Montag ’24, Isabella Naponado ’24, Danielle Piccone ’24, Crystal Ramdas ’24, Natalie Turney ’24, Alexander Wider ’24 participated.

In the 19th-century case, a group of 22 Chinese women sailed aboard an American ship from Hong Kong to San Francisco. The voyage arrived in California on Aug. 24, 1874 and carried nearly 600 total people, a majority of which were Chinese. When the ship docked, the California commissioner of immigration boarded the ship and inspected it. The group of women were singled out by the Commissioner. He considered them suspicious because they traveled without husbands or children. He stated they were “lewd and debauched” or likely to be sex workers because of how they were dressed and the fact that they traveled alone.

The commissioner told the ship’s captain he’d need to produce a $500 bond for each woman or they’d be returned to China. Members of the Chinese community in San Francisco mobilized to pay for attorneys for the women. Those lawyers filed a writ of habeas corpus, which protects people against unlawful imprisonment under the constitution. The women became custody of the county sheriff and remained detained on bond until the California Supreme Court decided only a  federal immigration authority could determine a person’s immigration status.

The case, though almost 150 years old, touches on topics discussed in modern courts such as due process, anti-Asian bias, immigration, and human rights.

Federal judges of the Northern District, including U.S. District Judge Anne Nardacci; U.S. Magistrate Judges Christian Hummel ’81 and Daniel Stewart ’88; and U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Littlefield Jr. ‘76,  also participated. U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino organized the event.

E. Stewart Jones Jr. ’66, Mia VanAuken ’02, and Albany Law School practitioner faculty member Adam J. Katz also participated.

October 2023 - Chy Lung v Freeman Reenactment