In March, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to lead an expedition into Mexico to punish Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary whose troops crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. Chinese merchants set up camps to supply the soldiers, angering a native-born populace who already resented and feared the Chinese. In danger of retribution, 2,500 Mexican civilians, including 527 Chinese, accompanied Pershing when he returned to the U.S. in February 1917.
Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which banned Chinese immigration into the United States, Pershing had to request special permission to bring the Chinese across the border. They began to live adjacent to the base at Columbus. In June 1917, most of the group was moved to San Antonio, where they served as laborers, carpenters and cooks at Camp Wilson (Camp Travis), Fort Sam Houston and Kelly Field in preparation for World War I. The worked admirably and at night attended an English school established by William Page, civilian advisor for the immigrants.
To prevent deportation of the refugees after World War I, Page and General Pershing, with the help of a law firm, developed a plan to ask Congress to take action in giving the immigrants permanent resident status. Congress passed Public Resolution 29 in 1921 and in January 1922, the Immigration Service began registering Chinese refugees in San Antonio as permanent residents of the United States. About half stayed in San Antonio, with many opening businesses. Maintaining identity through church, school, and ethnic organizations, the refugees became the base of San Antonio's Chinese community, which today remains one of the largest in Texas.