Immigration Policy

Virtual Tenement Talk: Three Historians Walk Into a Saloon – 1924


Enjoy a discussion streamed from our 19th-century lager beer saloon on the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, the most comprehensive immigration restriction to date and the first immigration law to explicitly exclude Europeans.

Between 1880 and 1924, 23 million immigrants entered the country, and New York’s population jumped from 1 million to over 5 million. The primary sources of immigration to NYC were Italy and Russia. But in 1921 and 1924, Congress established national origin quotas, ending an era of immigration.

Professor Mae Ngai looks at the long-term legal ramifications and engages in conversation with Eric Goldstein and Maddalena Marinari on the law’s impact on the Eastern European Jewish and Italian immigrants of New York’s tenements. What impact did this law have on those immigrants already in the country? What did this law say about who could be American?

Three Historians Walk Into a Saloon is a three-part virtual Tenement Talk Series. Set in our 19th century recreated lager beer saloon, where tenement dwellers gathered to read newspapers and debate the headlines, this series features today’s leading historians reliving some of the topics discussed long ago and delving into important turning points in our country’s history.

Award-winning historian Mae Ngai, Professor of History and Asian American Studies at Columbia University, hosts a rotating set of colleagues for rousing conversations about how immigration and migration help us understand the sweep of American history at critical moments, including the Civil War, the industrialization and urbanization of the late 19th century, and the emergence of the US as a global power after World War One. In a recent Atlantic article, Professor Ngai observed: “Americans are still struggling over competing versions of what this country should be.”

This series looks at past debates in the hope that analyzing past struggles will help shed insight on today’s questions.

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