The 1929 Law That Turned Undocumented Entry Into a Crime

By Treating Migrants as Felons, the Undesirable Aliens Act Reinforced a Punitive Approach to Unauthorized Immigration

Too often, discussions of modern immigration policy are ahistorical, focusing on recent events while ignoring the past policies that led us, as a country, to where we are today.

That’s especially true when undocumented immigrants are characterized as criminals—often merely on the basis of their legal immigration status. This rhetoric isn’t new—it has long been used to justify immigration crackdowns. But the framing of unauthorized migration as illegal does have an origin point: a little-known law in 1929.

The law—Senate Bill 5094, also known as the Undesirable Aliens Act—was notable because it …

Imagine a Democracy Built on Lotteries, Not Elections

We Already Randomly Select Our Juries. Why Not Do the Same With Congress?

Legislatures, and the elections that populate them, have so many flaws that we might be better off picking our representatives at random.

Before you chuckle, first consider how far we’ve …

The Cane That Struck Against Slavery

For Eight Years, Congress Refused to Hear Petitions on Abolition. John Quincy Adams Received This Gift in Recognition of His Battle Against the ‘Gag Rule.’

The history of American democracy is often best revealed not in the nation’s founding documents, but in the activism and struggles of countless individuals to create a more perfect union. …

Are U.S. Presidents Lame?

Untangling Whether the White House Has Too Much Power—Or Too Little

It’s routinely called the most powerful job in the world, but the U.S. presidency can seem astonishingly impotent. Ideas proposed in the State of the Union go nowhere once they …