This resource presents political cartoons from four different national contexts. Its goal is to further understandings of the ways in which nation-states affect individuals' ability to move freely around the world.


"Gatekeeping" refers to the control that nation-states exert over their boundaries. National boundaries might be metaphorically compared to fences (and in some cases, as the current fence spanning sections of the border between the United States and Mexico demonstrates, this can literally be the case). The means of crossing a fence is by entering or exiting through a gate. Thus, "gatekeeping" refers to the practice whereby national governments open or close their "gates" (that is, their portals of entry) to migrants. "Gatekeeping" highlights the role of law and policy for migration. Migrants do not move freely around the world, but encounter structures set up by states or international bodies. That said, the strategies by which migrants avert border restrictions provide evidence of their agency. The politicization of words like "illegal immigrant" masks power struggles that take place between migrants and controlling mechanisms of the state. The notion of "gatekeeping" also challenges myths that simultaneously celebrate the immigrant past and portray contemporary immigration as threatening. Although current debates condemn uncontrolled immigration, states have a long history of monitoring their borders. In the case of the United States, for example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred nearly all immigration from China. Australia's White Australia policy similarly enacted governmental legislation and policies between 1901 and 1973 that restricted the entrance of non-white immigrants.

The following cartoons depict historical examples of "gatekeeping." They date from the turn of the twentieth century and concern "gatekeeping" in four different national contexts. The first cartoon comes from the Vancouver newspaper Saturday Sunset and contrasts European and Chinese immigration to western Canada. The second cartoon was printed in the Chicago magazine The Ram's Horn and shows Uncle Sam encountering an Eastern European Jewish immigrant at a gate to the United States. The third cartoon, from the West Australian newspaper Western Mail, depicts Italian immigrant contract laborers disembarking in Australia. Finally, the fourth cartoon comes from the Argentinian magazine Caras y Caretas and depicts a government official traveling to Europe in order to promote immigration to his country.


Canada cartoon.jpg

Hawkins, N. H. "The Same Act Which Excludes Orientals
Should Open Wide the Portals of British Columbia to
White Immigrations." Saturday Sunset (Vancouver),
24 August 1907.

United States cartoon.jpg

Beard, Frank. "The Immigrant: The Stranger at Our Gate."
The Ram's Horn (Chicago), 25 April 1896.

Australia cartoon.jpg

Western Mail (Perth, West Australia), 1904.

Argentina cartoon.jpg

Caras y Caretas VI (Argentina), 10 January 1903.

Discussion Questions

(1) How are immigrants depicted in each cartoon? Consider such characteristics as race, gender, class, and age.

(2) How are the symbols of the nation-state(s) depicted in each cartoon? Again, consider characteristics like race, gender, class, and age.

(3) What do the cartoons suggest about the politics of immigration? What editorial statement is each cartoonist attempting to make about popular conceptions of immigration?

Suggested Readings

Daniels, Roger. Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004.

Fitzgerald, John. Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2007.

Guiraudon, Virginie, and Christian Joppke, eds. Controlling a New Migration World. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

Knowles, Valerie. Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2006. Revised edition. Toronto: Tonawanda, 2007.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by lavig004 published on November 1, 2001 9:58 PM.

Gender Ratios in Global Migration: Men who Migrate, Women who Wait? was the previous entry in this blog.

Eugenics, Race, and Immigration Restriction is the next entry in this blog.

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