Immigration Policy and Immigrant Activism in Postwar America

AHA Session 36
Immigration and Ethnic History Society 1
Thursday, January 2, 2014: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
Mae M. Ngai, Columbia University
Mae M. Ngai, Columbia University

Session Abstract

This session explores the interconnected histories of immigration policy and immigrant activism over the last seventy years. Fitting the conference’s theme, the panel examines how immigrants, advocates, activists, and policymakers have disagreed, debated and, above all, influenced the evolution of immigration policy in the postwar United States.

Adam Goodman will begin the panel by analyzing the ways that Mexicans on both sides of the border shaped—and were shaped by—the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s deportation policies from the 1940s to the 1960s. He shows how immigration policies not only affected migrants, but their families and communities as well. John Rosinbum’s paper examines American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, a six-year long court case from 1985 to 1991 that reshaped U.S. asylum policy. It focuses on the ways that refugee organizations and a handful of activist lawyers fought to keep a lawsuit against the government alive, transforming it from a First Amendment to Fifth Amendment case. Rather than going to trial, the government decided to settle, making massive concessions and reshaping its asylum policy. A year before the settlement the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990, the subject of Carly Goodman’s paper. Goodman examines the ways that activists shaped the Immigration Act of 1990 and the effects of the Act’s “diversity lottery,” which awards residency to 50,000 immigrants from underrepresented countries each year. Goodman focuses on the actions of individuals from Ghana and the ways that they shaped the implementation of the “diversity lottery” throughout the 1990s. Philip Wolgin, an immigration policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, examines the historical evolution of the DREAM Act. Wolgin puts recent immigration advocacy in historical perspective by comparing it with other social movements. He also explores how advocacy and coalition building influence policy outcomes. Mae Ngai, one of the foremost scholars of immigration history, will serve as chair and commentator.

Each of these four papers incorporates a “bottom-up” approach to immigration policy history that places immigrants, advocates, and activists at the center of immigration policy formation and implementation. Together, they represent important new directions in the field of immigration history, and will also appeal to anyone interested in transnational history, policy history, legal history, African history, Mexican and Central American history, and postwar U.S. history. This session is co-sponsored by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society.

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