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After They Closed the Gates

Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965

In 1921 and 1924, the United States passed laws to sharply reduce the influx of immigrants into the country. By allocating only small quotas to the nations of southern and eastern Europe, and banning almost all immigration from Asia, the new laws were supposed to stem the tide of foreigners considered especially inferior and dangerous. However, immigrants continued to come, sailing into the port of New York with fake passports, or from Cuba to Florida, hidden in the holds of boats loaded with contraband liquor. Jews, one of the main targets of the quota laws, figured prominently in the new international underworld of illegal immigration. However, they ultimately managed to escape permanent association with the identity of the “illegal alien” in a way that other groups, such as Mexicans, thus far, have not.

In After They Closed the Gates, Libby Garland tells the untold stories of the Jewish migrants and smugglers involved in that underworld, showing how such stories contributed to growing national anxieties about illegal immigration. Garland also helps us understand how Jews were linked to, and then unlinked from, the specter of illegal immigration. By tracing this complex history, Garland offers compelling insights into the contingent nature of citizenship, belonging, and Americanness.

312 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2014

History: American History, General History

Jewish Studies

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Political Science: Race and Politics


"Garland has performed a remarkable service in this book, which should be read by historians well beyond the small number who study the history of the Jews in the US. . . . After They Closed the Gates offers much."

Times Higher Education

“Garland offers vivid and intriguing portraits. . . . Thoroughly researched and cogently argued, this compelling book revises the conventional narratives of American and Jewish American immigration history.”

Journal of American History

“Garland examines here for the first time Jewish illegal immigration to the US following the supposed closing of America's gates in 1924.  Tens of thousands of Jews entered the US illegally, she argues, and her most significant chapters uncover the hidden processes through which Jews were smuggled. . . . Recommended.”


After They Closed the Gates is most interesting and most persuasive. . .”

American Historical Review

“Few Americans today remember the times when Jews constituted part of the undocumented issue. This book therefore makes a major contribution in educating contemporary Americans of various ethnic backgrounds, whose ancestors often faced a label as unassimilable and undesirable, that those now on U.S. borders striving to enter any way possible can also become accepted as beneficial citizens in this country. Garland has opened new and important historical territory for others to explore further..”

American Jewish History

“The illegal arrival of Jewish immigrants in the United States after 1924 was a phenomenon that had been erased from both Jewish and American collective memory until Libby Garland’s astounding book brought it back to light.  Impeccably researched and beautifully written, After They Closed the Gates offers an engaging view into a world of fake identities and clandestine border crossings, as well as into the complex legal process through which American Jews responded to the regime of immigration restriction. Garland not only challenges the traditional narrative of Jewish arrival in America, but also causes us to look at the entire history of illegal immigration in a new and critical way.”

Eric L. Goldstein | Emory University

“In charting the rise and fall of Jewish ‘illegal aliens’ in US history, Libby Garland also explores in absorbing detail the real-life effects of immigration law on the many migrants it targets. After They Closed the Gates is a marvelous, important, and timely book.”

Thomas A. Guglielmo | George Washington University

“Garland’s groundbreaking research upends much of what we think we know about immigration and the American-Jewish experience. After They Closed the Gates brings together a wealth of archival material from an extraordinary range of sources, creating a narrative that offers fresh and profound insight into both the history of both illegal immigration and Jewish responses to immigration restriction. A must-read for anyone who wishes to deepen their understanding of American-Jewish history, and a timely contribution to contemporary debates over ‘border security.’”

Marni Davis | Georgia State University

“Meticulously researched and provocatively argued, Garland reveals the previously unexplored arena of Jewish illegal immigration to the U.S. after the Quota Acts of the 1920s.  She introduces us to the complicated world of Jewish migrant ‘lawbreakers’ traveling under false documents, in circuitous routes, or through surreptitious entry, Jewish and Gentile smugglers trying to make money out of misfortune, and Jewish lawyers and aid organizations walking a fine line between supporting coethnics in need and drawing anti-immigrant ire that questioned their essential Americanness.  A masterful, path-breaking work of fine scholarship.”

George Sánchez | University of Southern California

"Between the two world wars, tens of thousands of Jews entered the United States illegally.  After They Closed the Gates brings to light the history of illegal Jewish immigration, a phenomenon hidden from view for decades.  With analytical rigor Libby Garland’s breakthrough study presents a fascinating counterhistory of the immigrant saga."

Tony Michels | University of Wisconsin

“Garland shows how illegal Jewish immigrants, experienced in ‘finding ways around restrictive and arbitrary-seeming laws,’ often confounded rigid racial and national categories. . . . This is a fine, densely researched book that is a must-read for anyone examining Jewish understandings of race and citizenship in the postwar United States.”

American Jewish Archives Journal

“In this well-documented and clearly written book, Garland tells the largely ignored story of Jewish illegal immigration to the United States during the era of immigration quotas from the 1920s to the 1960s. . . . A timely book, and the reader cannot help to draw comparisons between policies, politics, and experiences of the past and those of the present.”

AJS Review

“Breaking new ground, Garland argues that a historical view of immigration curtailment in the 1920s as a watershed moment has diverted attention from its continuation by other means. . . . [She] usefully expand[s] the discussion of the chronically freighted issue of race in the United States. . . [and] enhances understanding of how American Jews of diverse backgrounds and locales responded to pivotal events in twentieth-century American and European history.”

Journal of American Studies

Table of Contents

1. Building the Apparatus of Immigration Control
2. American Law, Jewish Solidarity
3. Smuggling in Jews
4. Illicit Journeys
5. Battling Alien Registration
6. Abolishing the Quotas


American Historical Association: Dorothy Rosenberg Prize

Jewish Book Council: National Jewish Book Award

AJHS: Saul Viener Prize

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