At America’s Gates

Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943

(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003; 2nd edition, 2004)

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2003 Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award (outstanding book in U.S. Immigration and Ethnic History); the Association of Asian American Studies History Book Award; 2004 Choice Outstanding Academic Title.


With the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese laborers became the first group in American history to be excluded from the United States on the basis of their race and class. This landmark law changed the course of U.S. immigration history. At America’s Gates explores how the Chinese exclusion laws not only transformed Chinese American lives, immigration patterns, identities, and families but also recast the United States into a “gatekeeping nation.”


“Erika Lee’s book is an outstanding contribution to North American immigration history.”

— International Migration Review

“Erika Lee’s rich and evocative study…demonstrates how Chinese exclusion turned the United States into a gate-keeping nation that patrolled its borders and its immigrant neighborhoods in order to keep out immigrants deemed undesirable and deport those who somehow slipped in anyway…Lee paints a rich and layered picture of the effects of Chinese exclusion for not only Chinese Americans, but also for the United States and American society as a whole.”

— Reviews in American History

“Lee has authored a masterful book, well written and based on extensive research in both English and Chinese sources. Readers will find it pertinent for both the study of ethnic history and contemplation of present- day ethnic polemics.”

— American Historical Review

At America’s Gates is the strongest, best grounded, and most persuasive assessment of the long historical shadow Chinese exclusion has cast over the development of American immigration policy. It deserves a wide readership among historians of U.S. race, gender, immigration, and politics.”

— Journal of Social History

“A tour de force in Chinese immigration history…a seminal resource for Asian Americanists, as well as for scholars interested in U.S. immigration history.”

— The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“Lee makes a very fruitful effort in putting Chinese exclusion in the context of American history, illustrating it, so clearly and forcefully, as a landmark in the history of U.S. immigration laws and regulations and as a revelation of the primacy of race in them. This exciting piece of scholarship is a well-written, enjoyable, and theoretically insightful book.”

— Pacific Historical Review