The Emergence of Immigration “Specialists”: Ideas about Inclusion and Exclusion of Immigrants in the Early to Mid-20th Century

Endorsed by the OAH–Japanese Association for American Studies Japan Historians’ Collaborative Committee, the German Historical Institute, the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS), and the Western History Association

Friday, April 3, 2020, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Immigration and Internal Migration


As we witness the widening divide of public opinions about immigration, questions about who can cross national borders and questions about the rights of immigrants have become central in the United States and around the world. In a world divided into sovereign states with unequal economic and political standing, the promise of equality rarely extends beyond national boundaries. Within national boundaries, these promises are often reserved for citizens. Struggles in crossing borders and the rights claims of immigrants are challenges to rectify inequality. Historically, how have socio-political, economic, and cultural contexts and the international relations of the U.S. and the immigrants’ home countries shaped the perceptions of and responses to immigration and immigrants? As scholars such as K. Benton-Cohen, the chair of the panel, suggest, in the U.S., it was only in the early 20th century that immigration came to be framed as a “problem” that can be “managed.” The three papers in this panel examine groups and networks of immigration “specialists,” activists, reformers, and government agents, who emerged in the early- to mid-20th century, as well as immigrant responses to these actors. Through a relational and comparative lens, the panel explores historical ideas about the inclusion and exclusion of immigrants and addresses the question of equality and inequality.
The first paper (Ichimasa) examines female activists in the early 20th century. Ichimasa will focus on Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961), one of the most important activists in American settlement and women’s peace movements. Analyzing a range of works and documents produced by Balch, this study explores how women’s social movements formed images of racial, national, and ethnic boundaries and fixed gender roles for minority groups. The paper also illustrates how women involved in social movements envisioned a global network of women for peace through personal experiences and relationships with immigrants and other activists.
The second paper (Oda) studies pre-WWII immigration reformers and traces the origins of post-WWII liberal immigration reform back to the late 1920s and the 1930s. This paper mainly discusses one of the oldest liberal immigration reform coalitions, the Joint Conference on Immigration Policy formed in 1930 that was reorganized into the American Immigration Conference in 1953. Oda argues that early efforts to promote cross-faith and cross-ethnic cooperation to counter eugenicist restrictionism laid both the ideological and organizational foundations of post-WWII reform for a more “equal” immigration policy.
The third paper (Izumi) discusses the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, one of the foremost violations of the equal protection of citizens. Izumi’s paper focuses on federal agents who administered the War Relocation Centers established to detain, manage, and release Japanese Americans excluded in the Pacific Coast. By combining archived findings and theories, this study attempts to present a more holistic understanding of officials involved in the wartime management of Japanese Americans. The paper will go beyond the question of whether Japanese American internment was racist or not, and contextualize this historical episode in the shifting relationship between race, liberalism, and social engineering by the U.S. federal government.

Papers Presented

Keepers of Concentration Camps? Federal Agents who Administered Japanese Americans during World War II

This paper reviews the records of federal agents who administered the War Relocation Centers established during World War II to detain, sort out, and release Japanese Americans excluded from the Pacific Coast. Some studies have portrayed these governmental agents as racist oppressors, while others describe them as benevolent managers of the unfortunate wartime hostages. For example, historian Richard Drinnon portrayed Dillon S. Myer, director of the War Relocation Authority (WRA), as a “keeper of concentration camps” in his 1992 book, while historian Roger W. Lotchin in his recent book argued that WRA officials allowed Japanese Americans freedom and entertainment as long as they did not disrupt the camp order. Other studies insist that the administrators were sympathetic to the incarcerees’ plights and showed understanding for the incarcerees’ cultural traits, particularly in the camps where officials had experienced managing Native American reservations. To unravel these contradictory representations of the WRA officials who administered the fundamentally racist policy of Japanese American internment, it is necessary to distinguish between structural and idiosyncratic factors. By combining facts from archival findings and theories such as racial liberalism and settler colonialism, this study tries to present an integrated understanding of these officials involved in the wartime management of Japanese Americans. The paper will go beyond the question of whether Japanese American internment was racist or not and contextualize this historical episode in the shifting relationship between race, liberalism, and social engineering by the U.S. federal government.

Presented By
Masumi Izumi, Doshisha University

Towards a More Equal Immigration Policy: Prewar Origins of Post–World War II Liberal Coalition and Immigration Reform

After World War II, liberals called for the abolition of the “unequal” national origins quotas and advocated for a more “equal” but selective immigration policy, which eventually led to the Hart-Celler Act of 1965. This paper traces the origins of liberal immigration reform back to the late 1920s to the 1930s, the onset of the era of restrictive immigration, when liberals began to advocate for administrative and legislative reform. They sought to reconcile the new principle of numerical immigration restriction and a more equitable criteria and practice of membership in the American polity. This paper will mainly discuss one of the oldest of liberal immigration reform coalitions, the Joint Conference on Immigration Policy, formed in 1930, and reorganized into the American Immigration Conference in 1953. Originally founded by around a dozen New York–based organizations, by the mid-1930s the loose coalition had some twenty members, including major faith-based organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, Federal Council of Churches, National Catholic Welfare Council, and the Young Women’s Christian Association, and more secular organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Immigrant’s Protective League. They were yet to launch a full-frontal attack against the national origins quotas system and worked discreetly with government agencies rather than appearing in public with a unified voice, thus escaping the attention of many historians. This paper argues that early efforts to promote cross-faith and cross-ethnic cooperation to counter eugenicist restrictionism laid both the ideological and organizational foundations of post–World War II immigration reform.

Presented By
Yuki Oda, Chuo University

Representation of Immigrants and Their Gender Roles: Emily Greene Balch and Her Social Work in the Early 20th-Century United States

This paper focuses on one of the most important female activists in American settlement movements and women’s peace movements, Emily Greene Balch (1867–1961), and discusses her communication with immigrant women and her presentation of the changing racialized ethnic/national and gender images of different immigrant groups. Some important features of reform movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States were the involvement of middle-class, educated American women and their aim to Americanize immigrants, especially those from eastern and southern Europe and Asia. American female activists were in contact with immigrant women who were the object of the reform as well as important actors of reform activities in their communities. However, not many studies reveal how American female activists were related to immigrants and how their activities eventually led to other labor, women’s, and peace movements with increasingly national and global networks. This paper examines Balch’s works and reports on her activities and fieldwork in Slavic (immigrant) communities in host and home countries, in addition to her commitment to support wartime refugees from Europe and Japanese Americans in internment camps. Further, it attempts to reveal how women’s social movements contributed to forming images of racial, national, and ethnic boundaries and fixed gender roles for minority groups. It also shows how Balch’s experiences and human relationships helped her imagine a global network of women for peace.

Presented By
Shiori Nomura Ichimasa, Chuo University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Katherine Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University
Katherine Benton-Cohen is associate professor of history at Georgetown University. She is the author most recently of Inventing the Immigration Problem: The Dillingham Commission and Its Legacy (Harvard University Press, 2018), and previously of Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands (Harvard University Press, 2009). An Arizona native, she is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Benton-Cohen has received numerous research fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and elsewhere. She currently serves as an Organization of American Historians (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer. She served as historical advisor to the acclaimed non-fiction feature film, Bisbee ’17 (dir. Robert Greene, 2017), which will make its television premiere on POV on CBS in July, and will be the subject of an American Historical Review roundtable in December 2019. She and her work have appeared in media outlets including C-Span-3, “Matter of Fact” with Soledad O’Brien, PBS American Experience, the BBC, Dissent,, and Lapham’s Quarterly. In 2018, she served as an OAH-JAAS Resident Fellow at Chuo University in Tokyo, Japan.

Presenter: Shiori Nomura Ichimasa, Chuo University
Shiori Nomura-Ichimasa is a professor in the Faculty of Law, at Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan. She majored in international relations and received her BA from Tsuda University, Tokyo. She received her MA in Area Studies from the University of Tokyo. As a Ph.D. student, she was granted social science bursaries from the University of Birmingham and an Overseas Research Studentship from the Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme, U.K. She completed her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies at the Department of Cultural Studies and Sociology, Postgraduate School of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham (U.K.) in 2006.
Shiori is interested in migration history, gender, and transnational social movements. She has been researching South Slavic immigrants, especially those from Croatia, and Japanese immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. By researching different immigrant groups, she developed relational and comparative studies on immigration. Furthermore, she is studying American female activists in reformative, women’s, and peace movements, such as Emily Greene Balch, who had contact with people from Eastern Europe and Japan.
Shiori has written many articles and co-written books in both English and Japanese. Some of her recent works include “Emily Greene Balch, a settlement activist and her sociology,” English Language and Literature (Chuo University), no. 58 (2018), pp.67-90; “Organizing and Mobilizing Immigrant Children: The Junior Order of the National Croatian Society and its Transnational Network during WWI,” Pacific and American Studies, vol. 18 (2018), pp.81-97; “The ‘voices of women’ on birth control and childcare: a Japanese immigrant newspaper in the early twentieth-century U.S.A.,” Japan Forum (The British Association for Japanese Studies: Routledge), vol. 21, no. 2 (2009), pp.255-276. She also translated Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective by D. R. Gabaccia (2012) and the translated book was published by Hakusuisha, Tokyo in 2015.
She has been a member of the Japanese Association for American Studies (JAAS), and the Japanese Association for American History. Since 2017, she has been serving as a committee member of the Japanese Association for American History.

Presenter: Masumi Izumi, Doshisha University
Masumi Izumi is a Professor at the Department of Global and Regional Studies, Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, where she teaches North American Studies. She graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, where she majored in Anglo-American Studies. She then attained her MA degree in Political Studies from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Masumi completed her Ph.D. at the Graduate School of American Studies, Doshisha University. As a Fulbright scholar (2004-2005), Masumi has served on the American Studies Association National Council as the international delegate between 2005 and 2008, and was a member of the ASA International Committee between 2008 and 2011. She serves on the Board of the Japanese Association for Migration Studies (JAMS), and chairs the JAMS Committee for the Promotion of Joint Research. Masumi has been researching about Japanese American and Japanese Canadian wartime experiences as well as about their post-internment communities, and has written numerous articles on the topic both in English and Japanese. Masumi authored the forthcoming book based on her dissertation, The Rise and Fall of America’s Concentration Camp Law: Civil Liberties Debates from the Internment to McCarthyism and the Radical 1960s, published by the Temple University Press. Her dissertation title is, “Japanese American Internment and the Emergency Detention Act (Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950), 1941-1971: Balancing Internal Security and Civil Liberties in the United States,” subsequently published as a book in Japan from Akashi Shoten in 2009. Her other publications include, “Gila River Concentration Camp and the Historical Memory of Japanese American Concentration Camp,” Japanese Journal of American Studies, Vol.29 (2018), “Reconsidering Ethnic Culture and Community: A Case Study on Japanese Canadian Taiko Drumming,” Journal of Asian American Studies, Vol.4, No.1 (2001), “Prohibiting ‘American Concentration Camps’: Repeal of the Emergency Detention Act and the Public Historical Memory of the Japanese American Internment,” Pacific Historical Review Vol.74, No.2 (2005), “Seeking the Truth, Spiritual and Political: Japanese American Community Building through Engaged Ethnic Buddhism,” Peace and Change, Vol.35, No.1 (2010), and “Alienable Citizenship: Race, Loyalty and the Law in the Age of ‘American Concentration Camps,’ 1941-1971,” Asian American Law Journal Vol.13 (2006).

Presenter: Yuki Oda, Chuo University
Yuki Oda is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan. He received his B.A. and M.A. in Area Studies from the University of Tokyo, and his Ph.D. in U.S. history from Columbia University in 2014. He specializes in immigration history, particularly the development of U.S. immigration policy in the 20th century. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled “Creating the American Family: Family Unity in U.S. Immigration Policy, 1921-1976.” By looking into family reunification and deportation of mixed-status families, his book project discusses the development and devolution of immigrant family rights in the U.S., and the historical changes in the concept of family under U.S. immigration law.
Alongside his monograph, he is translating Mae Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and Making of Modern America (Princeton UP, 2004) into Japanese (forthcoming in 2020 from Hakusuisha Press). He is also co-editing a U.S. history textbook for college students and general readers in Japan, titled Introduction to History and Culture of the United States (Kyoto, Japan: Minerva Press, forthcoming in 2021). He has contributed chapters to Nicholas Syrett and Corinne T. Fields, Age in America: Colonial Era to the Present (New York University Press, 2015), and Richard Marback ed. Generations: Rethinking Age and Citizenship (Wayne University Press, 2015).
Besides the OAH, he holds membership in the Japanese Association for American Studies (JAAS), and the Japanese for American Historical Association. A committee member of the International Committee of the JAAS since 2017, as well as the JAAS-OAH Collaborative Committee, he is committed to promoting organizational and academic ties between the JAAS and the OAH.