Annual Meeting Preview: “Immigration Advocacy: Then and Now”

This session takes place on Saturday, April 6, at the 2019 OAH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and is solicited by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS)

Chair: Rachel Ida Buff, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Julia Rose Kraut, Historical Society of the New York Courts
Katherine Benton-Cohen, Georgetown University
Yael Schacher, University of Texas at Austin
Jane Hong, Occidental College

Immigration Advocacy: Then and Now

The Trump administration’s immigration policies—travel bans, restrictions on asylum and legal permanent residents, attacks on sanctuary cities, attempts to eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the detention and separation of immigrant families at the border—have provoked mass protests, widespread criticism, and considerable outrage and resistance from immigration advocates and allies. Universities, state and local governments, and religious institutions have countered the administration’s policies regarding sanctuary with their own. DACA recipients have kept pressure on legislators, as have immigration advocacy organizations. Immigration and civil liberties attorneys have clamored to provide legal representation to those seeking asylum and to contest detention policies and the ending of TPS and DACA in federal district courts. They have formed networks, trained colleagues, exchanged information, and devised strategies to bring successful challenges to these new policies.

This is not the first time immigration advocates have worked in these ways. For the 2019 OAH Annual Conference, we proposed a roundtable that would provide a historical perspective on current immigration advocacy, showing how policies and the challenges to them have changed over time, while analyzing how past moments of contestation compare to and influence the present. Sponsored by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, this roundtable discussion will focus on immigration advocates, those inside and outside the United States, who have lobbied and litigated on behalf of newcomers to help them attain safety, opportunity, and equality in America. Each panelist will highlight a back and forth between advocates and the government throughout the 20th century, analyzing different kinds of advocacy: organizations lobbying against exclusionary legislation, lawyers developing legal strategies and cases on behalf of those facing exclusion or deportation, and advocates attempting to influence public opinion through protests, the media, and research reports. The partial victories and unintended consequences of past advocacy can inform today’s advocates and future immigration histories.

While historians have written a great deal about immigration policies, the panelists will provide a fresh perspective by focusing on the advocacy and legal precedent that have shaped these policies. Each panelist will draw upon her recent or forthcoming publication. Katherine Benton-Cohen will discuss Jewish organizations in the early 20th century who sought to forestall the inclusion of literacy tests in proposed immigration restrictions and lobbied Congress for the creation of the Dillingham Commission, featured in her book, Inventing the Immigration Problem: The Dillingham Commission and Its Legacy (Harvard University Press, 2018). Yael Schacher will examine two cases from her book project, A Prehistory of Asylum (1880–1980), which analyzes how immigration attorneys sought to broaden the definition of persecution for those seeking asylum and how immigration authorities and the courts responded to this advocacy. Julia Rose Kraut will describe the legal strategies used to challenge exclusion based on belief, association, and expression under the First Amendment during the Cold War and now in the War on Terror, which she discusses in her book, A Fear of Foreigners and of Freedom: Ideological Exclusion and Deportation in America (Harvard University Press, forthcoming). Jane Hong will speak about the role non-U.S. actors played in advocating for the repeal of U.S. Asian exclusion laws between the 1940s and the 1960s, which she describes in her book, Opening the Gates to Asia: A Transpacific History of How America Repealed Asian Exclusion (University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming, Fall 2019), as well as how such actors could potentially play a similar role in pressing for current immigration liberalization. Rachel Ida Buff will serve as Chair. She will also contribute examples from her book on the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, Against the Deportation Terror: Organizing for Immigrant Rights in the Twentieth Century (Temple University Press, 2017), while she guides a discussion on how past immigration advocacy can help us understand and respond to the present.


Julia Rose Kraut, Historical Society of the New York Courts

Posted: January 9, 2019
Tagged: Previews, Conference, OAH Works, Historicizing Today