summer reading: libby garland’s after they closed the gates: jewish illegal immigration to the united states, 1921-1965
As part of a CUNY junior faculty semester-long writing group, I read and commented on drafts of what are now publications. I’m delighted to see that one draft is now a book that introduces readers to an unfamiliar historical period, one that helps us understand the US’s contemporary policy on immigration. For readers interested in immigration, historian Libby Garland‘s new book After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965 (University of Chicago, 2014) offers a window into policy implementation.
For a preview of her book, check out a recording of her talk and actors’ re-enactments of documents (fast forward to about 9:25 for the start of her talk) at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side.* In her talk, Garland discusses the origins of her research project, which was prompted by the desire to understand the role of Jewish nonprofit organizations in international aid work, as well as the impact of nascent quota laws – numerical limits
that presaged piloted by the Chinese Exclusion Act – upon the forms of immigration. While conducting research on documents from the US Immigration Bureau in the National Archives, she realized she had stumbled upon a forgotten piece of American history.
During her research, which included examining reports made by Jewish aid organizations and newspaper articles, she uncovered accounts of eastern European Jewish immigrants’ circuitous routes into the US via multiple countries, including Cuba, Canada, and Mexico. Governmental officials (undercover agents) sent reports documenting smugglers’ activities and requesting orders on what to do about the influx of undocumented immigrants. Through careful study of such documents, Garland uncovers the implementation of policy at borders, seaports, and deportation hearings.
Garland also has a podcast interview about her book on Vox Tablet.
* The Tenement Museum offers docent-led tours, showing how much (or how little) times have changed in terms of living space.