Guarding the Golden Door American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882

Roger Daniels

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

344 Pages



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The federal government's efforts to pick and choose among the multitude of immigrants seeking to enter the United States began with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Conceived in ignorance and falsely presented to the public, it had undreamed-of consequences, and this pattern has been rarely deviated from since. As renowned historian Roger Daniels shows in this brilliant new work, America's inconsistent, often illogical, and always cumbersome immigration policy has profoundly affected our recent past.

Immigration policy, in Daniels's skilled hands, shows Americans at their best and worst, from the nativist violence that forced Theodore Roosevelt's 1907 "gentlemen's agreement" with Japan to the generous refugee policies adopted after World War II and throughout the Cold War. And in a conclusion drawn from today's headlines, Daniels makes clear how ignorance, partisan politics, and unintended consequences have overtaken immigration policy during the current administration's War on Terror.

Irreverent, deeply informed, and authoritative, Guarding the Golden Door presents an unforgettable interpretation of modern American history.


Praise for Guarding the Golden Door

"This useful study introduces readers to the tangled history of immigration policy in the U.S."—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

"Ambitious . . . Guarding the Golden Door is both an introductory survey of immigration policy and a masterful assessment of the state of the field by one of its founders . . . Daniels chronicles the history of American immigration policy in a way that provides a much-needed perspective on both the continuities and changes in the United States' efforts to regulate immigration . . . [His] attention to the development of American refugee law is among the most helpful and original sections of the book . . . [And his] analysis of contemporary immigration policy and the debate over immigration, including changes in immigration regulation after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is comprehensive and authoritative . . . Daniels's irreverent writing style also makes for refreshing reading . . . Guarding the Golden Door is rich with details, statistics, and the author's own unique viewpoint. The book is exemplary."—Erika Lee, Reviews in American History

"[This] eloquently written, superbly researched, and brilliant synthesis [covers more than a] century of American immigration restriction policies and politics. In fascinating detail, this instant classic traces U.S. immigration policies from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the treatment of 'undesired' foreigners in a post-9/11 United States."—Gerhard Grytz, University of Texas at Brownsville

"A useful reference for untangling the complexities of over a century of American immigration policy."—K. Scott Wong, Williams College, The Journal of American History
"[A] comprehensive yet accessible overview [that gives] appropriate attention to unrelenting efforts to keep out Asians, culminating in their near-total expulsion in 1924."—Aristide R. Zolberg, The New Leader

"Clearly written, reasonably lean . . . Balanced in its assessments, [this book] is an excellent primer."—Tamar Jacoby, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"In a clear-eyed, smartly argued analysis, Daniels shows that both sentiment and statistics have obscured the truth of immigration history, so much of which takes place between the lines of laws. Ranging from Chinese Exclusion to Homeland Security, Guarding the Golden Door assembles a powerful and provocative argument about why the United States has remained an immigrant country—and why it should stay one for its own benefit."—Eric Rauchway, author of Murdering McKinley

"Daniels confirms his standing as our preeminent historian of immigration policies. Guarding the Golden Door has it all: solid, informed research, and clear, cogent writing. His conclusions underline the constant paradox that has plagued immigration history: however invaluable to our economy and our material comfort, we exploit, marginalize, and, particularly now, regard immigrants with suspicion, distrust, and hatred."—Stanley I. Kutler, author of Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon

"Daniels, a leading historian of American immigration, has written a valuable book covering American immigration policy since the 1880s. This was no easy task, but Daniels deftly manages to cover the many laws, administrative decisions, politics, and policy debates that comprise this fascinating history. Throughout it all, Daniels explains the issues and outcomes with clarity and insight. Guarding the Golden Door should be read by every American trying to get a grasp on how central immigration has been to our history, and continues to be. Immigration is now front-page news, and to grasp the background of current issues this is the book to read."—David Reimers, author of Unwanted Strangers: American Identity and the Turn Against Immigration

"Daniels provides an expert reexamination of American immigration policy and immigrant history. He identifies 'nodal points' in the history of immigration to the United States, beginning with the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and following the twists and turns in official policy up to the present debate on how to control illegal immigration. Statistics and detailed discussion of immigration law and its consequences (intended and unintended) illustrate the successive battles between nativists and those championing freer immigration. Daniels's work is particularly striking when detailing the story of Asian immigration to the United States. For example, in the 19th century Chinese immigrants were nearly entirely male; it was not until after World War II that large numbers of Chinese women were admitted, many as war brides. Throughout, the author argues that immigration policy is often based on unfounded assumptions and often produces results completely opposite to those intended. Intricate descriptions of immigration law and statistical evidence make this a solid [and] scholarly work that is highly recommended for academic libraries."—Duncan Stewart, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Library Journal

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Read an Excerpt

Guarding the Golden Door
PART IThe Golden Door Closes and Opens, 1882-1965CHAPTER ONEThe Beginnings of Immigration Restriction, 1882-1917In the beginning Congress created the Chinese Exclusion Act. Like much of what Congress has done about immigration since then, it was conceived in ignorance, was falsely presented to the public, and had consequences undreamt of by its creators. That May 1882 statute, which has long been treated as a minor if somewhat disreputable incident, can now be seen as a nodal point in the history of American immigration policy. It marked the moment when the golden doorway
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  • Roger Daniels

  • Roger Daniels, the author of Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II and several other books, is a renowned expert on Asian American and immigration history, was a consultant to the commission that recommended redress, and has served on the History Advisory Board for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum since its inception.