2018-02-09 21:34:25 UTC
RABBI MARTIN ZIELONKA of Temple Mount Sinai in El Paso, Texas, had to deal with a growing problem, one he expected would worsen: Four Jewish immigrants appeared on his doorstep, coming from Eastern Europe to Mexico (by way of Spain or the Netherlands) and then entering the United States in total violation of the law. 
Why were these Jews entering in violation of U.S. law, when millions of others had come over without such transgressions? The game changer was an adjustment to this country’s immigration laws, explicitly designed to keep out Southern and Eastern European immigrants: Jews, Italians, Russians, Poles, Greeks, and more. With these statutes, Jewish became some of this nation’s first illegal aliens.
During the late 19th century, many Americans were becoming concerned about newcomers from Southern and Eastern Europe. The influx of Jews, especially, was cited as a prime example of why the new mass migration was a problem for America. 
Given the illegal nature of this migration, we will never have definitive numbers of how many Jews broke the law to enter this country after 1924; evidence suggests a figure in the tens of thousands. Far more important, however, is this effort’s impact on the present-day United States. Looking at the laws that regulate today’s immigration, it is clear that they cannot be seen as new or as responsive to current conditions. Rather, they emerged from an era and an environment in which Jews were leading players.