The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America

Scribner. May 2019. 528p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781476798035. $32; ebk. ISBN 9781476798080. HIST
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Johnson-Reed Act, which limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States by establishing quotas on people from most European countries and barring those from most Asian countries. The act codified xenophobic beliefs and continued to indulge and encourage racial discrimination for decades to come. Okrent (Last Call) deftly tells the story of the decades-long struggle to bring the Johnson-Reed Act into fruition in a narrative that follows two threads: antiimmigration and eugenics. Both develop independently for several years, but through the complex network of wealthy socialites, politicians, and scientists they found common ground in racial science. Okrent indicts many well-known and respected names in American history as supporting eugenics, racial science, and antiimmigration, such as the Roosevelts, Harrimans, and Rockefellers (among others).
VERDICT Okrent does not connect past immigration sentiment and laws with current precepts and policies, and unfortunately that limited scope also limits the book's impact. Still, this remains a well-researched, accessible and enjoyable read albeit both shocking and sad. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/18.]
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