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Article
Through the Back Door: Applying Theories of Legal Compliance to Illegal Immigration During the Chinese Exclusion Era
Law & Social Inquiry (2006)
  • Emily Ryo, University of Southern California
Abstract
This article applies theories of legal compliance to analyze the making of this country’s first “illegal immigrants”—Chinese laborers who crossed the U.S.-Canadian and U.S.-Mexican borders in defiance of the Chinese exclusion laws (1882–1943). Drawing upon a variety of sources, including unpublished government records, I explore the ways in which Chinese laborers gained surreptitious entry into the United States during this period and ask, what explains their mass noncompliance? I suggest that while an instrumental perspective is useful for understanding these border crossings, it overlooks other important determinants of noncompliance: normative values and opportunity structures. Specifically, the exclusion laws were widely perceived by the Chinese as lacking social and moral legitimacy, and thus not worthy of obedience. In addition, the existence of smuggling networks and liberal immigration policies in Canada and Mexico played a critical role in facilitating noncompliance. The article concludes with a discussion about the benefits and challenges of using this theoretical framework to analyze noncompliance in immigration law.
Publication Date
2006
Citation Information
Emily Ryo. "Through the Back Door: Applying Theories of Legal Compliance to Illegal Immigration During the Chinese Exclusion Era" Law & Social Inquiry Vol. 31 (2006)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/eryo/2/