Immigration to the United States
The United States has long been the world's chief receiving nation for immigrants and refugees. The country has had four major periods of immigration.
The first wave began in what is now the United States with the colonists of the 1600's and reached a peak just before the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775. The second major flow of immigrants started in the 1820's and lasted until a depression in the early 1870's. The greatest inpouring of people took place from the1880's to the early 1920's. A fourth and continuing wave began in1965 because of changes in U.S. immigration laws.
The first wave. Most of the early colonists who settled in what is now the United States came from England. Many other colonists came from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Sweden, and Wales. Some colonists came from Denmark, Finland, and what is now Ukraine. Some colonists sought adventure in America. Others fled religious persecution. Many were convicts transported from English jails. But most immigrants by far hoped for economic opportunity. Many could not afford the passage to America and came as indentured servants. Such a servant signed an indenture (contract) to work for a master for four to seven years to repay the cost of the ticket. Blacks from West Africa came to the colonies involuntarily. The first Africans were brought as indentured servants, but most blacks arrived as slaves. West African blacks captured most of the slaves in wars and traded them for European goods. By 1700, the colonists in America numbered about 250,000. Approximately 450,000 immigrants arrived between 1700 and the start of the Revolutionary War. During that period, fewer English immigrants came, while the number from Germany, Ireland, and Scotland rose sharply. Most immigrants arrived in Philadelphia, the main port in the colonies. Wars in Europe and America slowed immigration during the late1700's and early 1800's. Newcomers included Irish fleeing English rule and French escaping revolution. Congress made it illegal to bring in slaves as of 1808. By that time, about 375,000 black Africans had been imported as slaves. During the early 1800's, New York City began to replace Philadelphia as the nation's chief port of entry for immigrants. The country's first immigration station, Castle Garden, opened in New York City in 1855. Ellis Island, the world's most famous station, operated in New York Harbor from 1892 to 1954.
The second wave. From 1820 to 1870,
almost 71/2 million newcomers entered the United States. Nearly all of them came from northern and western Europe. About a third were Irish, many of them seeking escape from a potato famine that struck Ireland in the mid-1840's. Almost a third were German. Most of the Irish had little money, and so they stayed where they arrived, on the East Coast. Many Germans had enough money to journey to the Midwest in search of farmland. In the mid-1800's, some states sent agents to Europe to attract settlers. Railroad companies did the same thing.
Better conditions on ships and steep declines in travel time and fares made the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean easier and more affordable. In the mid-1800's, news of the discovery of gold in California reached China. Chinese immigrants and sojourners streamed across the Pacific to strike it rich. Sojourners were temporary immigrants who intended to make money and return home. French-Canadian immigrants and sojourners opened still another path to the United States. They moved across the Canadian-U.S. border into the New England States and Michigan. The flood of immigrants began to alarm many native-born Americans. Some feared job competition from foreigners. Others disliked the religion or politics of the newcomers. During the 1850's, the American Party, also called the Know-Nothing Party, demanded laws to reduce immigration and to make it harder for foreigners to become citizens. Although the party soon died out, it reflected the serious concerns of some Americans. During the 1870's, the U.S. economy suffered a depression while that of Germany and the United Kingdom improved. German and British immigration to the United States then decreased. But arrivals increased from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, China, Canada, and southern and eastern Europe. In 1875, the United States passed its first restrictive immigration law. It prevented convicts and prostitutes from entering the country. During the late 1870's, Californians demanded laws to keep out Chinese immigrants. In some instances, mobs attacked Chinese immigrants, who were accused of lowering wages and of unfair business competition. The third wave. From 1881 to 1920, almost 231/2 million immigrants poured into the United States from almost every area of the world. Until the 1880's, most newcomers still came from northern and western Europe. They came to be called old immigrants. Beginning in the 1890's, the majority of arrivals were new immigrants, people from southern and eastern Europe. More and more native-born Americans believed the swelling flood of immigrants threatened the nation's unity. Hostility like that which had boiled over against the Chinese in the 1870's now turned against Jews, Roman Catholics, Japanese, and, finally, the new immigrants in general. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from coming to the United States. That year Congress also began to expand its list of unacceptable immigrants beyond convicts and prostitutes to include such people as beggars, contract laborers, the insane, and unaccompanied minors. A 1917 law required adult immigrants to show they could read and write. The law also excluded immigrants from an area known as the Asiatic Barred Zone, which covered most of Asia and most islands in the Pacific. In 1921, Congress set a ceiling on the number of people allowed to enter the country. This quota limited immigrants from any country to 3 percent of the foreign-born people of that nationality who lived in the United States in 1910. The Immigration Act of 1924 took effect in 1929. It limited the number of immigrants from outside the Western Hemisphere to about 153,700 a year. The distribution was based on percentages of the nationalities making up the 1920 population. That formula ensured that 126,600 of the immigrants would be from northern and western Europe. A temporary decline-1930-1965. During the Great Depression, U.S. immigration dropped sharply. Only about 500,000 immigrants came from 1931 to 1940-and even more people left. World War II(1939-1945) led to an easing of the nation's immigration laws. The War Brides Act of 1945 admitted the spouses and children of U.S. military personnel who had married while abroad. China became an ally during the war, and so the United States lifted its ban against Chinese immigrants. In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act, also called the McCarran-Walter Act, established limited quotas for Asian countries and other areas from which immigrants had been excluded. The law, for the first time, also made citizenship available to people of all origins.
Congress began to set separate provisions for refugees. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 opened the country to about 600,000 Europeans and Soviet citizens left homeless by World War II.
During the late 1950's and early 1960's, the United States received thousands of refugees from revolutions in Hungary, Cuba, and China.
The fourth wave.
In 1965, amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act ended quotas based on nationality. Instead, the amendments provided for annual quotas with a ceiling of 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere. The act established a preference system for the issuing of visas (permits) that strongly favored relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens, as well as people with special skills. Wives, husbands, parents, and minor children of U.S. citizens could enter without being counted as part of the quota. In 1978, Congress replaced the separate quotas for immigrants from the Eastern and Western hemispheres with a single annual world quota of 290,000. The 1965 amendments produced major changes in patterns of immigration to the United States. The percentage of immigrants from Europe, Canada, and Central America dropped, while that of immigrants from Asia and the West Indies leaped dramatically. Today, the largest groups of United States immigrants come from Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, China, India, Cuba, Ukraine, Jamaica, and South Korea. The immigrants from South Korea include many people who were born in North Korea. A large number of newcomers still settle in the East and Midwest. However, many other immigrants move to Florida and California. Under the 1965 amendments, refugees could make up 6 percent of the Eastern Hemisphere's annual quota for immigration to the United States. This was later extended to the Western Hemisphere. But the percentage was too small for the flow of refugees from war-torn Southeast Asia in the late 1970's or the streams of people from Haiti, starting in the early 1970's, and from Cuba in 1980. As a result, Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, which provided for the setting of new quotas yearly. In 1924, the United States established the Border Patrol to prevent unlawful entry along U.S. boundaries. But the problem of illegal immigration has grown steadily. Experts estimate that millions of undocumented aliens live in the United States. Undocumented aliens, or illegal aliens, are noncitizens living in a country without proper visas or other documents. Most undocumented aliens in the United States are Mexicans. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 offered amnesty(pardon) to illegal aliens who had lived in the United States continuously since before Jan. 1, 1982, or who had worked at least 90 days at farm labor in the United States between May 1, 1985, and May 1, 1986. The act also set penalties on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. By the end of the amnesty period in 1988, more than 3 million illegal aliens had applied for amnesty. However, hundreds of thousands of others did not apply for various reasons, including the cost and confusion involved in filing, concerns about splitting up families, and the lack of adequate residency or employment records. In addition, critics of the 1986 law claimed that it had only a minor effect on the flow of illegal aliens into the country. In 1990, further amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 increased the number of immigrants allowed into the United States each year. Ceilings were fixed at 700,000 annually for 1992 to 1994 and 675,000 annually beginning in 1995. Like the 1965 amendments, the 1990 amendments placed no limit on the number of U.S. citizens' immediate relatives who could enter the country each year. The ceilings also did not include refugees. The 1990 amendments gave additional preference to people from countries that had sent relatively few immigrants to the United States in recent years. These countries included many European and African nations. People who seek legal admission to the United States apply at the U.S. consulate in their home country for a visa. They must prove, among other things, that they do not have an infectious disease or a criminal record. Immigration laws favor relatives of U.S. citizens; refugees; and people with skills needed in the United States. Others may have to wait years, particularly in countries that have many people wishing to emigrate.