Conference Annoucement: How Did We Get Here? The Historical Roots of the U.S. Immigration Debate

Brendan P. O'Malley's picture

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


10:00 AM – 4:30 PM

The New School University – 80 Fifth Avenue – Room 529 – New York, NY 

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.


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


1:00 – 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

  • Heath Brown, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, John Jay College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Alexandra Delano, Assistant Professor of Global Studies, The New School, and Co-Director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility
  • Lina Newton, Associate Professor of Political Science, Hunter College, CUNY


For further information, contact Brendan O'Malley at: omalleyb (at)