Annual Meeting Preview: "Rethinking 1924–1965 in U.S. Immigration History for Today’s World"

This session takes place on Friday, April 5 at the 2019 OAH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and is Solicited by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS)

Chair: Madeline Hsu, University of Texas-Austin
• Kathleen Lopez, Rutgers University
Elliott Young, Lewis & Clark College
• Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania
Ruth Wasem, University of Texas at Austin

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Immigrants and immigration policy have fueled some of the most incendiary political debates ever since the United States began serious attempts to restrict immigration in the mid-19th century. The hard choices of what kinds of persons to admit and welcome as equal citizens and what kinds to reject speak directly to conceptions of national identity and ideals of how the United States should operate as a democracy. The lack of consensus about these key ideals and how they should be implemented in laws and institutions perhaps unavoidably ignites heated confrontations and heartfelt soul-searching but especially in present times when the executive branch of government is attempting the severest restriction of immigration in U.S. history.

This panel will clarify the ideological and institutional history of anti-immigrant hostilities, the preferences and discriminations built into current immigration law, and the accrual of extreme executive authority in the name of immigration policy enforcement. Four leading migration studies experts will address these questions through interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives: Elliott Young specializes in Latin American history and U.S. practices of detention and border controls; Kathleen López is an expert on Caribbean migrations and transnationalism; Eiichiro Azuma is the leading scholar on migration and Japanese and American empires; while Ruth Wasem brings incomparable credentials as a policy expert after working as the Congressional Research Office’s expert on immigration. The chair, Madeline Hsu, is president of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society.

These scholars contributed to the anthology, A Nation of Immigrants Reconsidered: U.S. Society in an Age of Restriction, 1924-1965 (University of Illinois Press, 2019) which Hsu co-edited with Maddalena Marinari and Maria Cristina Garcia. The anthology explored the historical genealogy of the immigration reforms and liberalization of U.S. society commonly attributed to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which departed from decades of immigration restrictions based on race and national origins. However, new kinds of discrimination surfaced in the form of preferences based on family reunification, employment categories, and quantitative caps on migration within the Americas. In conjunction with virtually unchecked executive authority over prohibited immigration that had accrued when immigration restrictions openly discriminated on the basis of race and class, the most recent immigration policies and their enforcement have proven to be formidably unenforceable and dehumanizing. Dismayingly, no clear path to reform has yet emerged. This panel aims to foster discussions that will illuminate these seemingly intractable challenges.


Madeline Hsu, University of Texas-Austin

Posted: March 11, 2019
Tagged: Previews, Conference, Historicizing Today