How Did We Get Here? The Historical Roots of the U.S. Immigration Debate, March 4th, 10 am-4:30pm, @ 80 Fifth av., Room 529


10:00 AM – 4:30 PM

The New School – 80 Fifth Avenue – Room 529

Why are the politics and policies surrounding immigration in the United States so fraught? Where does the appropriate balance lie between the human rights of newcomers and the national interest? Nearly everyone across the political spectrum can agree that the system needs to be overhauled, but as the longstanding political deadlock demonstrates, few can agree over the objectives and the means of achieving reforms. These very same questions have arisen at different points in U.S. history.  What historic lessons can be drawn to shed light on the present situation? This one-day conference brings together historians, legal scholars, and social scientists in an attempt to contextualize the origins of current-day immigration politics and practice. By bringing to light how the current system coalesced from the early republic through the Obama administration, the hope is that we may recover some ideas from the “useable past” that could point to new openings and possibilities for change.

Trump has made immigration a focal point of election cycle 2016. Has the subject always been so incendiary? What is the way forward in this seemingly unusually contentious election year? Questions and controversies involving immigration regulation, citizenship status, and nativism have erupted across the history of the republic. Historian Brendan O’Malley has organized a one-day conference that brings together scholars that don’t usually dialogue with each other, namely immigration historians, legal scholars, political scientists, and public policy specialists, and many others, to put their heads together to use the past to try to shed light on the present. The conference is designed for and welcomes audience participation.

Participants will not present formal papers. Instead, they will deliver informal remarks of about ten minutes. After these initial comments, each session will be devoted to questions from the audience. Participation from audience members is expected and highly encouraged as the day is designed to be more interactive than a traditional academic conference.


10:15 AM

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Brendan P. O’Malley, Bernard & Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow, New-York Historical Society and Department of Historical Studies, The New School

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Early Republic through Federalization of Immigration Control

1780s – 1880s

  • Hidetaka Hirota, Lecturer in History and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, Columbia University
  • Kunal Parker, Professor of Law & Dean’s Distinguished Scholar, University of Miami Law School
  • Beth Lew-Williams, Assistant Professor of History, Princeton University

12:00 – 1:00 PM

Lunch Break

1:o0 – 2:30 PM

Ellis Island/Angela Island and National Origins Eras

1890s – 1965

  • Alan Kraut, University Professor of History, American University
  • Katherine Benton-Cohen, Associate Professor of History, Georgetown University
  • Anna O. Law, Herbert Kurz Chair in Constitutional Rights and Associate Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY

3:00 – 4:30 PM

1965 to the Present

  • Heath Brown, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, John Jay College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Nancy Hiemstra, Assistant Professor of Migration Studies, Stony Brook University , and ZIMM Visiting Scholar 2016
  • Lina Newton, Associate Professor of Political Science, Hunter College, CUNY