S. Deborah Kang

Portrait of S. Deborah Kang

S. Deborah Kang is an associate professor in the Corcoran Department of History and a member of the Democracy Initiative at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on both the historical and contemporary aspects of US immigration and border policy.

Her first book, The INS on the Line: Making Immigration Law on the US-Mexico Border, 1917-1954 (2017) traces the history of US immigration agencies on the US-Mexico border and earned six awards and accolades, including the Henry Adams Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government, the Theodore Saloutos Book Award from the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize, the W. Turrentine Jackson Award from the Western History Association, and the Americo Paredes Book Award for Best Nonfiction Book on Chicano/a, Mexican American and/or Latino/a Studies. It was also recognized as a Finalist for the 2018 Weber-Clements Book Prize by the Western History Association. Her second book is a history of U.S. immigration legalization policies from the early twentieth century to the present.

Kang also serves as a consultant for federal public defender offices throughout the country, preparing research briefs on the racial animus that informed the passage of laws criminalizing undocumented immigration. As a former Immigration Policy Fellow at the US Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego, she wrote working papers and briefs on the immigration enforcement policies issued by the Trump administration. Her work has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Huntington Library, and the Clements Center for Southwest Studies.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In this lecture, Kang recounts the forgotten history of a group of Russian refugees who were spared from deportation to the Soviet Union where they would face persecution and even death. As she traces the movement to save the Russians, she demonstrates how conceptions of mercy and compassion informed the development of American immigration law and led to the creation of various forms of immigration relief. Ultimately, however, there were limits to the grant of relief. As Kang explains, the history of the Russian deportees served as a harbinger of the ways in which race, class, gender, and ideology informed decisions about who deserved sovereign mercy.
Written for general audiences, this lecture provides a basic introduction to US immigration policy history, the emergence of the concepts of illegality and legality, and the impacts of US immigration law on undocumented immigrants. Kang has delivered this lecture to organizations such as Hillcrest Indivisible in San Diego, United We Dream, and the Naval War College.
In this book talk, Kang traces the relationship between the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and the development of American immigration law. While many assume that the nation's immigration laws were forged by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., Kang reveals the many ways in which local officials and residents on both sides of the line shaped and reshaped immigration law and policy as well as the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol.