After They Closed the Gates: Jew­ish Ille­gal Immi­gra­tion to the Unit­ed States, 1921 – 1965

Lib­by Garland
  • Review
By – October 30, 2014

This metic­u­lous­ly researched study pro­vides gen­uine, if unwel­come, news about the sit­u­a­tion of Jews enter­ing — or attempt­ing to enter — the U.S. over a forty-year peri­od. It evis­cer­ates the smug stance of the many Jews and oth­er immi­grant groups who have delight­ed in the assumed legal­i­ty of their people’s immi­gra­tion into the U.S. Enough crow­ing about how much bet­ter our group was than today’s ille­gals” who are infect­ing our cul­ture; enough self-con­grat­u­la­tion. Tens of thou­sands of Jew­ish immi­grants were illegals. 

Pro­fes­sor Garland’s pri­ma­ry inter­est, how­ever, is not to issue a come­up­pance, but rather to trace the rea­sons for and the effects of U.S. immi­gra­tion con­trols. Her main focus through the ear­ly chap­ters is on the immi­gra­tion laws of 1921 and 1924 that not only lim­it­ed total immi­gra­tion but also, more trag­i­cal­ly, lim­it­ed the num­ber of south­ern and east­ern Europe­ans — and vir­tu­al­ly all Asians. The design­ers of our nation-based quo­tas bla­tant­ly strove to engi­neer the qual­i­ty of future U.S. racial and cul­tur­al stock. 

These laws and oth­ers, on both fed­er­al and state lev­els, cre­at­ed a new class of crim­i­nal— the ille­gal alien — as well as new admin­is­tra­tive and enforce­ment agen­cies. Guess what? The changed immi­gra­tion sit­u­a­tion also attract­ed the entre­pre­neur­ial spir­it of those who would help peo­ple get around the laws: counterfeit­ers, smug­glers, influ­ence ped­dlers, dis­guise artists, safe house sup­pli­ers, spe­cial­ist lawyers (of course), and so forth. 

The mid­dle chap­ters of this book, Smug­gling in Jews” and Illic­it Jour­neys” are the most col­or­ful, as they are laced with the kind of sto­ry telling that ani­mates and details the broad strokes of Garland’s analy­sis. More of this kind of par­tic­u­lar­i­ty would be wel­come through­out — more of the voic­es and person­alities of those involved. 

The 1930s com­pli­cat­ed the sta­tus of ille­gal aliens — and per­haps legal ones as well — by intro­duc­ing a push for reg­is­tra­tion of aliens. Garland’s read­ers will not miss the par­al­lels to today’s polit­i­cal bat­tles over documenta­tion and iden­ti­ty cards, between secu­ri­ty and per­son­al free­dom. As one might expect, Amer­i­can Jews … were at the fore­front of the bat­tle against alien reg­is­tra­tion through­out the era.” 

Too often marred by over­long and convo­luted sen­tences and para­graphs, this study is notable for Garland’s pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty and for her con­cern with fair­ness to those on all sides of the issues she explores. The six­ty pages of notes are wise­ly rel­e­gat­ed to the end of the book rather than squeezed in along the way. Index, notes.

Relat­ed content:

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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