Immigration, Identity, and Citizenship

Immigration, Identity, and Citizenship
Immigration, Identity, and Citizenship
Janae Sayler, a 2023 Liberal Arts alumna, smiling and sitting at a desk in a classroom.
Janae Sayler, a 2023 Liberal Arts alumna, served as co-founder and president of Minorities in the College of the Liberal Arts.

Immigration is the focus of the current offering in the College of the Liberal Arts’ “Moments of Change” initiative—an undertaking that brings students, faculty, staff, and alumni together to explore what it means to live through historic and contemporary times of change. Through spring 2025, “Moments of Change: Immigration, Identity, and Citizenship” will examine mass migration and highlight the ongoing work of students, faculty, staff, and alumni in that regard. 

The new theme marks the 100th anniversary of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, a restrictive immigration law. The goal of the theme is to explore the parallels and differences between “then” (100 years ago) and “now”—both in the United States and around the world—exploring how the immigration experience and our responses to immigration have changed over the last century.

Between 1880–1920, 20 million Southern and Eastern Europeans migrated to the United States to what was then a protestant society populated by people of northwestern European and African descent. But this immigration flow was abruptly halted by the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act. With the explicit goal of “setting back the clock,” this law severely restricted the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe and completely banned immigration from Asia. A century later, the country is once again grappling with mass migration, this time from Latin America and Asia, and the rapidly growing racial/ethnic heterogeneity and fractionalization that has accompanied it. 

Student Leaders

Emmanuel Kraft (left) poses with other members of Global Brigades in Athens, Greece, in May 2023.
Emmanuel Kraft (left) poses with other members of Global Brigades in Athens, Greece, in May 2023.

Emmanuel Kraft is the founder and president of the Legal Empowerment Brigade within Penn State Global Brigades. The second-year student is a Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar majoring in Political Science and Communication Arts and Sciences.  

In May 2023, he led a pilot program to Athens, Greece, to shadow lawyers to understand how refugee and immigration cases are handled. They also worked with the Greek Council for Refugees, contributing to legal efforts to aid refugees in their journeys to immigration for little to no cost. The work in Athens culminated in creating an educational workshop for unaccompanied minors who were trying to immigrate across the border by themselves.  

Emmanuel said the Legal Empowerment Brigade is looking to build and plan additional ways to help the community during their week-long volunteer programs abroad during summer 2024. 

  • HIST 158 History of American Immigration
  • HIST 525 Imperial Borderlands in Modern Europe
  • HIST 542 American Borderlands
  • LTNST 100 Introduction to Latina/o Studies
  • LTNST 226 Latina and Latino Border Theories
  • LTNST 326 Reading the BorderLands: Geography and Identity Along the U.S.-Mexico Border
  • SOC 445 Sociology of Immigration 
  • SOC 525 Immigrant Integration and Inequality 

Event Recordings

Johnstown, PA, and the Invention of America’s "Immigration Problem"

Educator and author Katherine Benton-Cohen discusses Pennsylvania’s place in American immigration history, revealing Johnstown’s pivotal role in the largest and most important study of the nation’s immigrants—one that shaped more than four decades of U.S. policy.

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