Theses Doctoral

Family Unity in U.S. Immigration Policy, 1921-1978

Oda, Yuki

"Family unity" is often upheld as the principle of U.S. immigration policy, central to the making and self-understanding of the U.S. as a "nation of immigrants." However, family-based immigration system was only born of struggles of immigrant families against the regime of restriction. As the era of open immigration ended in the U.S. in 1921, there emerged a fundamental tension between claims of immigrant families and the regime of immigration restriction. Much of what current immigration law recognizes as family, or how it matters, originated in the post-1921 era, born out of struggles by immigrant families. This dissertation examines the period between 1921 and 1978 from two perspectives. One is as an era of the three-tiered regulatory system created in the 1920s that lasted until the 1960s to the 1970s: 1) quotas restriction applied to European immigrants 2) exclusion of Asian immigrants, and 3) administrative regulation of immigration from Mexico without a firm ceiling. Another is as the formative years of contemporary immigration control that lasts today. The three-tiered system marked by explicit ethno-racial hierarchization closed first in 1965 by abolition of the quotas system in the Eastern Hemisphere, and finally in 1978 when Congress placed all countries including the Western Hemisphere under a worldwide ceiling. But the end of the quotas era was not a return to an era of open immigration, but an onset of alternative form of immigration restriction and regulation. With particular attention to linkage between ideas about family and ethno-racial composition of the U.S., the dissertation will discuss how claims of family, selective admission and restriction of family immigration, created, reinforced, and unmade the three-tiered immigration restriction regime. To date there has been no comprehensive historical study of the concept of the "family" in immigration law -- how it is defined, who is eligible as a family member and who is not, under what conditions families may be united or separated, and how family-based policies varied according to ethno-racial origin. This lack has resulted in a static and naturalized view of the family rather than a dynamic and contested concept in immigration law and policy. This dissertation explains the changes in definitions of family in immigration, deportation, and nationality law during the quotas era, shows how they are the product of challenges raised by immigrant families, and how they were inherited to the era of formally neutral and at the same time global immigration restriction.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ngai, Mae
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 7, 2014