Views on immigration were as complicated in the 1930s as they are today. A 1938 public opinion poll indicated that the majority of Americans did not want to increase the number of refugees allowed into the United States. When asked, “What is your attitude toward allowing German, Austrian, and other political refugees to come into the U.S.?” only five percent of respondents felt that refugees should be encouraged to come even if immigration quotas needed to be raised. Nearly 20% percent said refugees should be allowed to come, but that immigration quotas should not be raised, and 67% of respondents said with conditions as they are, “we should try to keep them out.” Ten percent had no opinion.

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Today the majority of Americans say immigration reform is a priority for the United States. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, a national survey conducted May 1-5, 2013 among 1,504 adults finds that 73% say there should be a way for illegal immigrants already in the United States who meet certain requirements to stay here. But fewer than half (44%) favor allowing those here illegally to apply for U.S. citizenship, while 25% think permanent legal status is more appropriate. When it comes to legal immigration, relatively few (31%) see current levels as satisfactory, but there is no consensus as to whether the level of legal immigration should be decreased (36%) or increased (25%).

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As the 113th Congress debates the Immigration Reform Bill[LINK TO JEW S. SENATE KIKE CHUCKIE SCHUMER'S WEBSITE], and examines border security, visas, and the rights of those who are not citizens, it is worthwhile to look at the views of Americans in 1938. When asked how they would vote as members of Congress voting on a bill that would open the doors of the U.S. to a larger number of European refugees than were allowed under current immigration quotas, 9% said they would vote for the bill, 83% said they would not vote for the bill, and 8% did not know how they would vote.

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When Europe’s refugees were attempting to come to the U.S., they looked to many organizations for assistance. Now immigrants are able to seek help from several local and international organizations willing to provide services, including some that helped refugees with settlement 80 years ago.

US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

USCRI defends the rights of refugees and asylum seekersworldwide. Through advocacy campaigns and direct services, USCRI seeks protection and dignity for the world’s most vulnerable people.

Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services

BRYCS provides national technical assistance to organizations serving refugees and immigrants so that all newcomer children and youth can reach their potential.

New York Immigration Coalition

The New York Immigration Coalition aims to achieve a fairer and more just society that values the contributions of immigrants and extends opportunity to all. The NYIC promotes immigrants’ full civic participation, fosters their leadership, and provides a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

HIAS provides rescue and refuge for persecuted and oppressed Jews around the world, and, as the population of Jewish refugees has diminished, they have directed their expertise to assist refugees and immigrants of all backgrounds.

International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people to survive and rebuild their lives. Founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, the IRC offers lifesaving care and life-changing assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. At work today in over 40 countries and in 22 U.S. cities, the IRC restores safety, dignity, and hope to millions who are uprooted and struggling to endure.

CUNY Citizenship Now!

This initiative provides free, high quality, and confidential immigration law services to help individuals and families on their path to U.S. citizenship. Attorneys and paralegals offer one-on-one consultations to assess participants’ eligibility for legal benefits and assist them in applying when qualified. They also coordinate community, educational, and volunteer initiatives to help expand opportunities for New York City’s immigrant population.

[IMAGE: Prospective immigrants line up outside the U.S. Consulate in Vienna after the German annexation of Austria, 1938. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.]


$12 adults, $10 seniors, $7 students.
Members and children 12 and younger are admitted free.

Banished Genius: Émigré Composers in America

The Knickerbovker Chamber Orchestra  returns to the Museum to herald the opening of the exhibition. Featuring music by Kurt Weill, Arnold Schoenberg, and others, the program will focus on work by composers forced into exile, many of whom enthusiastically embraced the music of their adopted land.

$18, $15 students/seniors, $12 members

The Museum and the KCO are grateful to Priscilla and Harold Grabino, Helen Dunn & Sam Seltzer, and Julia Blaut & Ned Dewees for their generous support of this concert.

Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust

(USA, 2012, 60 min.)

This new documentary tells the story of the Frieder brothers, cigar makers from Cincinnati, who teamed up with Manuel Quezon, the first president of the Philippines, along with Paul McNutt, U.S. High Commissioner, and Dwight D. Eisenhower to save 1,200 Jews from Nazi persecution.


$10, $7 students/seniors, $5 members

Voices of Liberty is a sound installation of diverse voices—Holocaust survivors, refugees, and others who chose to make the U.S. their home.

The sometimes emotional, often humorous, always meaningful testimony tells us the stories of arriving on these shores from the point of view of those who sought to build new lives here. You can add your family’s story as well.

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