The following is a brief book précis of After they closed the gates: Jewish illegal immigration to the United States, 1921-1965, by Libby Garland.
Please feel free to comment on the précis, make recommendations for improvement, add to it, or recommend other books and articles that might be of interest.
Garland argues that American immigration quota laws stimulated illegal immigration from Europe. She makes two claims that guide the narrative of the text. First, she asserts that the history of illegal immigration cannot be interpreted by reviewing the letter of the law and enforcement alone (p. 1). It requires telling stories about what the law meant to people through their experiences. Second, Garland claims that Jews, unlike Mexicans and Asians were able to decouple and shed their ethnic identity from illegal immigration (p. 2).
During the interwar years, American Jewish leadership establishes a place for American Jewry within the mainstream of American society. While providing legal and political resistance to the Michigan Registration legislation, Jewish leadership asserted their claim to European whiteness, distanced themselves from other groups such as Asians, Mexicans, and Communists, dispelled the myth of ethnic criminality, and asserted their standing as protectors of constitutional rights and legal legislation (pp. 149-151, 165). They argued not as members of a minority group requiring protection, but as Americans protecting the Constitution and American values (p. 167).
Garland draws together an impressive argument based on a range of documentary evidence. Generally, her arguments are well supported and integrated, which is an achievement given that successful illegal immigration is inherently difficult to track because of the clandestine nature of the behaviour being studied. Although I am confident that her assertion that restriction stimulated illegal immigration is sound, she does ask the reader to take a causal leap of faith about how the Jewish community shed the stigma of illegal immigration. Although intuitively logical, the topic merits comparative study among other ethnic groups that also shed their identities as illegal immigrants to test if Garland’s leap of faith is justified.
Garland, Libby. After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press, 2014.