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 …