Laws Harsh As Tigers

Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law

By Lucy E. Salyer

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones, 9 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4530-1
    Published: November 1995
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6431-9
    Published: November 2000
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6925-8
    Published: November 2000

Studies in Legal History

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Awards & distinctions

1995 Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award, Immigration History Society

Focusing primarily on the exclusion of the Chinese, Lucy Salyer analyzes the popular and legal debates surrounding immigration law and its enforcement during the height of nativist sentiment in the early twentieth century. She argues that the struggles between Chinese immigrants, U.S. government officials, and the lower federal courts that took place around the turn of the century established fundamental principles that continue to dominate immigration law today and make it unique among branches of American law. By establishing the centrality of the Chinese to immigration policy, Salyer also integrates the history of Asian immigrants on the West Coast with that of European immigrants in the East.

Salyer demonstrates that Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans mounted sophisticated and often-successful legal challenges to the enforcement of exclusionary immigration policies. Ironically, their persistent litigation contributed to the development of legal doctrines that gave the Bureau of Immigration increasing power to counteract resistance. Indeed, by 1924, immigration law had begun to diverge from constitutional norms, and the Bureau of Immigration had emerged as an exceptionally powerful organization, free from many of the constraints imposed upon other government agencies.

About the Author

Lucy E. Salyer is associate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.
For more information about Lucy E. Salyer, visit the Author Page.


“A tremendous contribution to our understanding of how legal alien residents gradually came to lose their constitutional rights in the United States.”--Western Legal History

“Brilliant, well-researched and well-written.”--Law and History Review

"Salyer's fresh approach to the study of immigration law contributes a critical and vitalizing measure of complexity to a dimension of immigration history."--American Journal of Legal History

"An elegantly written, well conceived book that makes an important contribution to the field."--Pacific Historical Review

"This excellent book, carefully and thoroughly researched and engaginglywritten, represents some of the finest recent scholarship in the history of American law."--American Historical Review

"This is an important study for American historians of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially those who focus upon the American West, immigration, nativism, ethnicity, and Asian Americans."--Western Historical Quarterly