The Historical Roots of the U.S. Immigration Debate

A one-day conference sponsored by the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility of the New School for Social Research, and the Department of Historical Studies of the Eugene Lang College of the New School University


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.

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, New School University


10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Early Republic through Federalization of Immigration Control

1780s – 1880s

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


12:00 – 1:00 PM

Lunch Break


1:o0 – 2:30 PM

Ellis Island/Angel 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

  • Lina Newton, Associate Professor of Political Science, Hunter College, CUNY
  • Heath Brown, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, John Jay College and The Graduate Center, CUNY
  • Nancy Hiemstra, Assistant Professor of Migration Studies, Stony Brook University
  • John Mollenkopf, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology and Director of the Center for Urban Research, The Graduate Center, CUNY



2 thoughts on “The Historical Roots of the U.S. Immigration Debate

  1. This is very interesting. Is this conference open to the public? I ask for my husband and his work colleague who are not students of New School.


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