After They Closed the GatesJewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965

After They Closed the GatesJewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965

Libby Garland

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226122458

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Stolen Borders tells the history of the Jewish illegal immigration occasioned by the nation-based, restrictive immigration quotas implemented by federal laws passed in 1921 and 1924. A chaotic underground of illegal immigration emerged in the wake of these quota laws, which barred nearly all immigrants from Asia and most from southern and eastern Europe, people widely considered inferior and “undesirable.” In the years after the quotas, Jewish migrants sailed into New York with fake German passports and came into Florida from Cuba, hidden in the hold of boats loaded with contraband liquor. This book explores the responses that government officials, journalists, Jewish organizations, alien smugglers, and migrants themselves had to this unsanctioned flow of people over U.S. borders. Ultimately, Stolen Borders challenges a central narrative of U.S. historiography—the narrative of the “closing of the gates” to European immigrants in 1924. It demonstrates that the “gates” did not simply close. Rather, the reordering of the nation’s boundaries in the quota era happened unevenly, confusedly, and with much contention. The book also traces the process through which Jews came to be associated with, and then to be uncoupled from, “illegal alienness.” We know in retrospect that Jews, like other European ethnics, ultimately escaped the category of “illegal alienness”—despite their history of illegal entry—in a way that, for example, Mexicans have not. How this happened has been less well understood. Yet, in its twists and turns this story offers compelling insights into the contingent nature of citizenship, belonging, and Americanness.