In light of its long tradition of immigration, the U.S. today takes in more legal immigrants than all other countries in the world — combined. Approximately 60 million Americans are first or second generation immigrants, nearly one out of five citizens. The grand influence of immigrants from all over the world has generated a diverse population and workforce with a unique gamut of skill sets. Immigration has determined many aspects of life in the United States.
America & Immigration: A History
It is in part due to the the astounding immigration experienced in the early United States that the nation became what it is now.. In the 17th and 18thcenturies, enormous throngs of citizens who left their homes in Scotland and the British Isles as well as Europeans from German speaking regions, France and the Netherlands made lasting contributions to the development of the nation. The primary influence for immigrating to America at this time was to achieve religious freedom from restrictive European monarchies. Huguenots, French Protestants who followed Martin Luther’s reformation, were among the larger populations of America’s first immigrants. Early citizens effectively caused the development of society and cultural perceptions which made large scale immigration possible.
Though the United States boasted massive reserves of resources and great promise at the time, it lacked the labor necessary to take advantage of such resources. During the 17th and 18th centuries immigrants were consistently coming to America but in smaller and smaller numbers. After 1820 immigration became much more large scale.
Western Europeans came to the United States in order to take advantage of its famed abundance. Life in the city changed as industrial America began to rise. Increased immigration led to significantly higher populations in cities and urban settings. Concurrently, this change also inspired westward expansion. No longer living in such remote or bountiful locations, settlers were encouraged to expand the frontier.
After 1880 the demographics of immigration changed. Considered the “Age of Mass Migration,” millions of people from Southern and Eastern Europe entered the country. In the 20th century immigration continued to increase, seeing a peak in 1907. Legal policy was at times a significant challenge faced by immigrants. In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were many attempts to target immigration. The first major restriction to immigration was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This law stopped immigration from China and prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens. Though it was intended to last only ten years, it was extended once, and then made permanent. The Immigration Act of 1924 is a later example of legal policy which greatly restricted immigration. This act enacted policies which prevented immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe and included the Asian Exclusion Act which was aimed at reducing East Asian and Asian Indian immigration. Building upon the Emergency Quota Act, this document created quotas for specific ethnic groups and nations. These laws effectively prevented a number of Europeans from escaping Nazism and World War II. A number of years later, the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 abolished such quotas. The result of this was a huge increase in non-European immigration. This trend continues today, showing especially large immigrant populations from Mexico, China and South Asia.
How Does Immigration Work?
The journey to the United States was an often deadly process that took months and considerable investment to complete. It is documented that on a ship destined for the United States from Europe, approximately one in seven passengers would die on board. The legal process by which citizens immigrated changed drastically over the years. It was during 1820 that formal immigration records were first documented. Captains of incoming ships were required to submit passenger lists to a collector of customs. These passenger lists were then given to the Secretary of State, who submitted them to Congress during each session. Due to the much increased activity, collectors were only responsible for forwarding statistical reports to the Treasury Department. Today, the immigration process is quite involved. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website provides valuable services for those wishing to become citizens. Laws pertaining to naturalization and immigration can be highly intimidating and difficult to understand. Websites which give general information on the topic are helpful starting places. Findlaw’s Naturalization Process website, for instance, explains eligibility and how to complete an application.
A number of guides specific to immigration and countries of origin are available online. For instance, Danish Immigration to America provides resources which offer insight into the history of emigrations, as well as the Danish immigrant experience in America. Further, information regarding guides on genealogy and tracing families through history are suggested.
It is possible to better understand immigration in terms of its timeline and demographics through historical data and statistics. The United States Census Bureau offers a great deal of information pertaining to the characteristics of foreign-born citizens. These characteristics are viewable by citizenship status, year of entry, world region of birth, and by generation. Other official sources, such as the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics which is authored by the Department of Homeland Security, detail persons obtaining legal permanent resident status.
The Hamilton Project de-mystifies such questions surrounding immigration through its “Ten Economic Facts about Immigration.” This document explains that America hosts a more diverse immigrant population than before that goes on to earn advanced educational degrees.
The positive effects of immigration on American history can be seen in articles such as The Impact of Immigration on American Society: Looking Backward to the Future. This text considers how immigrants have shaped American society and policy.
Federal and academic investigations have been aimed at looking into the financial issues of immigration. The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Government was authored by the Congress of the United States Congressional Budget Office. It explains how immigrants pay more in taxes than they earn in benefits and services.