Vox Tablet

When We Were Illegal Aliens: Jewish Immigration Under the Quota Laws

In a new book, Libby Garland unearths the smugglers, schemes, and pluck Jews relied on to reach the United States

May 27, 2014
(The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.)

(The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.)

Jewish-American family lore is full of stories about how a great uncle or grandmother passed through Ellis Island when they came to the United States from Riga or Salonika or any other number of places in Europe. What we don’t typically hear about are Jews who entered the United States illegally, sneaking over the border in El Paso or being smuggled in along with a shipment of booze during Prohibition. The term “illegal alien” isn’t one usually uttered by Jews in conjunction with Jews.

Yet in her new book After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States 1921-1965, historian Libby Garland demonstrates that in the early part of the 1900s, when immigration quotas were imposed to keep out undesirable populations, many Jews defied the law in search of safe haven and opportunity. Some succeeded in their efforts. Others were arrested and deported.

Garland joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to talk about why quota laws were imposed, what Jewish communal leaders in the United States did to respond to these restrictions, and how the battle over immigration from 100 years ago presages the battle over immigration today.

Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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