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History of immigration to the United States

History of immigration to the United States

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The history of immigration to the United States is a continuing story of peoples from more populated continents, particularly Europe and also Africa and Asia, crossing oceans to the new land. Historians do not treat the first indigenous settlers as immigrants. Starting around 1600 British and other Europeans settled primarily on the east coast
East Coast of the United States
The East Coast of the United States, also known as the Eastern Seaboard, refers to the easternmost coastal states in the United States, which touch the Atlantic Ocean and stretch up to Canada. The term includes the U.S...

. Later Africans were brought as slaves. During the nation's history
History of the United States
The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in the year 1776, although its territory was inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times and then by European colonists who followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The...

, the growing country experienced successive waves of immigration which rose and fell over time, particularly from Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

, with the cost of transoceanic transportation sometimes paid by travelers becoming indentured servant
Indentured servant
Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture. Usually the father made the arrangements and signed...

s after their arrival in the New World. At other times, immigration rules became more restrictive. With the ending of numerical restrictions in 1965 and the advent of cheap air travel immigration has increased from Asia and Latin America, much of the latter "illegal." Attitudes toward immigrants have cycled back and forth between favorable and hostile since the 1790s.

Colonial era 1600-1775

The first, and longest, era from 1607 TO 1775 brought British, German and Dutch immigrants (and black slaves), plus smaller groups.


By far the largest group of new arrivals comprised the British. They were not exactly "immigrants" for they remained within the British Empire. Over 90% became farmers. Large numbers of young men and women came alone, as indentured servants. Their passage was paid by employers in the colonies who needed help on the farms, or shops. They were provided food, housing, clothing and training and at the end of the indenture (usually around age 21) they were free to marry and start their own farm.


The first successful English colony started in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown, Virginia
Jamestown was a settlement in the Colony of Virginia. Established by the Virginia Company of London as "James Fort" on May 14, 1607 , it was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke...

. Once tobacco was found to be a profitable crop, many plantations were established along the Chesapeake Bay
Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It lies off the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay's drainage basin covers in the District of Columbia and parts of six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West...

 in Virginia and Maryland.

New England

A few hundred English Pilgrims, seeking their religious freedom in the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

, established a small settlement near Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Tens of thousands of English Puritans came to Boston, Massachusetts and adjacent areas from about 1629 to 1640 to create a land dedicated to their religion . The earliest New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire were established along the northeast coast between Maine and New York. Large scale immigration to this region ended before 1700, but a small steady trickle of later arrivals continued.

The peak New England settlement occurred from about 1629 to about 1641 when about 20,000 Puritan settlers arrived mostly from the East Anglian parts of England (Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

, Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

, Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

, Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, and East Sussex
East Sussex
East Sussex is a county in South East England. It is bordered by the counties of Kent, Surrey and West Sussex, and to the south by the English Channel.-History:...

). In the next 150 years, their "Yankee
The term Yankee has several interrelated and often pejorative meanings, usually referring to people originating in the northeastern United States, or still more narrowly New England, where application of the term is largely restricted to descendants of the English settlers of the region.The...

" descendants largely filled in the New England states and parts of upstate New York.

The New England colonists were the most urban and educated of all the colonists and had many skilled farmers as well as tradesmen and skilled craftsmen among them. They started the first college in the Americas, Harvard
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

, in 1635 to train their ministers. They mostly settled in small villages for mutual support (nearly all had their own militias) and common religious activity. Shipbuilding, commerce, agriculture and fisheries were their main income sources. New England's healthy climate (the cold winters killed the mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects), small widespread villages (minimizing spread of disease) and abundant food supply resulted in the lowest death rate and highest birth rate (marriage was expected and birth control was not, and a much higher than average number of children and mothers survived) of any of the colonies. The eastern and northern frontier around the initial New England settlements was mainly settled by the descendants of the original New Englanders. Immigration to the New England colonies after 1640 and the start of the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 decreased to less than 1% (about equal to the death rate) in nearly all years prior to 1845. The rapid growth of the New England colonies (~700,000 by 1790) was almost entirely due to the high birth rate (>3%) and low death rate (<1%) per year.


The Dutch established settlements along the Hudson River
Hudson River
The Hudson is a river that flows from north to south through eastern New York. The highest official source is at Lake Tear of the Clouds, on the slopes of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains. The river itself officially begins in Henderson Lake in Newcomb, New York...

 in New York starting about 1626. Wealthy Dutch patroons set up large landed estates along the Hudson River and brought in farmers who became renters. Others established rich trading posts for trading with the Indians and started cities such as New Amsterdam (now New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

) and Albany, New York
Albany, New York
Albany is the capital city of the U.S. state of New York, the seat of Albany County, and the central city of New York's Capital District. Roughly north of New York City, Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, about south of its confluence with the Mohawk River...

. After the British took over and renamed the colony New York, Germans (from the Palatine) and Yankees (from New England) began arriving.

Middle colonies

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware formed the middle colonies. Pennsylvania was settled by Quakers from Britain, followed by Scotch Irish from Ulster (Ireland) on the frontier and numerous German Protestant sects, including the German Palatines
German Palatines
The German Palatines were natives of the Electoral Palatinate region of Germany, although a few had come to Germany from Switzerland, the Alsace, and probably other parts of Europe. Towards the end of the 17th century and into the 18th, the wealthy region was repeatedly invaded by French troops,...

. The earlier colony of New Sweden
New Sweden
New Sweden was a Swedish colony along the Delaware River on the Mid-Atlantic coast of North America from 1638 to 1655. Fort Christina, now in Wilmington, Delaware, was the first settlement. New Sweden included parts of the present-day American states of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania....

 had small settlements on the lower Delaware River, with immigrants of Swedes
Swedish American
Swedish Americans are Americans of Swedish descent, especially the descendants of about 1.2 million immigrants from Sweden during 1885-1915. Most were Lutherans who affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ; some were Methodists...

 and Finns. These colonies were absorbed by 1676.

The middle colonies' settlements were scattered west of New York City (established 1626; taken over by the English in 1664) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (established 1682). The Dutch-started colony of New York had the most eclectic collection of residents from many different nations and prospered as a major trading and commercial center after about 1700. The Pennsylvania colonial center was dominated by the Quakers for decades after they emigrated, mainly from the North Midlands of England, from about 1680 to 1725. The main commercial center of Philadelphia was run mostly by prosperous Quakers, supplemented by many small farming and trading communities with a strong German contingent located in several small towns in the Delaware River valley.

Starting in about 1680, when Pennsylvania was founded, many more settlers arrived in the middle colonies. Many Protestant sects were encouraged to settle there by freedom of religion and good, cheap land. Their point of origin was about 60% British and 33% German. By 1780, in New York, about 17% of the population were descendants of Dutch settlers, about 6% were black and the rest were mostly English with a wide mixture of other Europeans. New Jersey and Delaware had a majority of British with 7-11% German-descended colonists, about 6% black population, and a small contingent of Swedish descendants of New Sweden. Nearly all were at least third-generation natives.


The colonial western frontier was mainly settled from about 1717 to 1775 by mostly Presbyterian settlers from northern England border lands, Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, and Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

, fleeing bad times and persecution in those areas. The fourth main colonial center of settlement is the western frontier in the western parts of Pennsylvania and the South which was settled in the early-to-late 18th century by mostly Scots-Irish, Scots and others mostly from northern England border lands. Between 250,000 and 400,000 Scots-Irish migrated to America in the 18th century. The Scotch-Irish soon became the dominant culture of the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

. Areas where people reported 'American
Maps of American ancestries
The ancestry of the people of the United States is widely varied and includes descendants of populations from around the world, some presumably extinct elsewhere...

' ancestry were the places where, historically, Scottish and Scots-Irish Protestants settled in America: in the interior of the South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

, and the Appalachian
Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...



The mostly agricultural Southern English colonies
Southern Colonies
The Southern Colonies in North America were established by Europeans during the 16th and 17th centuries and consisted of olden South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. Their historical names were the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, the Province of Carolina, and the Province...

 initially had very high death rates for new settlers from malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, yellow fever
Yellow fever
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. The virus is a 40 to 50 nm enveloped RNA virus with positive sense of the Flaviviridae family....

 and other diseases as well as Indian wars
Indian Wars
American Indian Wars is the name used in the United States to describe a series of conflicts between American settlers or the federal government and the native peoples of North America before and after the American Revolutionary War. The wars resulted from the arrival of European colonizers who...

. Despite this, a steady flow of new settlers, mostly from central England and the London area, kept the population growing. The large plantations were mostly owned by friends (mostly minor aristocrats) of the British-appointed governors initially). Many settlers arrived as indentured servants who had to work off their passage with five to seven years of work for room and board, clothing and training, but no cash wages. After their terms of indentures expired, most of the indentures settled small farms on the frontier. The Southern colonies were about 55% British, 38% Black and roughly 7% German
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

. The international slave trade mostly ended after 1775 and was outlawed in 1808, although some slaves were smuggled in.

The initial areas of settlement had been largely cleared of Indians by major outbreaks of measles, smallpox, and plague starting decades before the settlers began arriving after 1600.


While the 13 colonies had differences in detail, they had many things in common. Nearly all were settled and financed by privately organized groups of English settlers or families using private free enterprise without any significant English Royal or Parliamentary government support or input. Nearly all commercial activity was run in small privately owned businesses with good credit both at home and in England being essential since they were often cash poor. Most settlements were nearly independent of trade with Britain as most grew or made nearly everything they needed—the average cost of imports per most households was only about 5-15 English pounds per year. Most settlements were done by complete family groups with several generations often present in each settlement. Probably close to 80% of the families owned the land they lived and farmed on. They nearly all used English Common Law as their basic code of law and except initially for the Dutch
Dutch people
The Dutch people are an ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United...

, Swedes and Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

, spoke some dialect of English. They nearly all established their own popularly elected governments and courts on as many levels as they could and were nearly all, within a few years, mostly armed, self governing, self supporting and self replicating. This self ruling pattern became so ingrained that almost all new settlements by one or more groups of settlers would have their own government up and running shortly after they settled down for the next 200 years. Nearly all, after a hundred years plus of living together, had learned to tolerate other religions than their own.

Few British troops were stationed the colonies. The locals provided nearly all their own law enforcement and militia forces they wanted or needed from their own ranks. The American Revolution was in many ways a fight to maintain the property and independence they already enjoyed as the British tried, belatedly, to exploit them for the benefit of the crown and Parliament. Nearly all colonies and later, states in the United States, were settled by migration from another colony or state, as foreign immigration usually only played a minor role after the initial settlements were started. Many new immigrants did end up on the frontiers as that was where the land was usually the cheapest.

After these colonies were settled, they grew almost entirely by natural growth with foreign born populations rarely exceeding 10% (except in isolated instances). The last significant colonies to be settled mainly by immigrants were Pennsylvania in the early 18th century, Georgia and the Borderlands in the late 18th century as migration (not immigration) continued to provide nearly all the settlers for each new colony or state. This pattern would continue throughout U.S. History.

Population growth is nearly always by natural increase but significant immigration can sometimes be seen in some states when populations grow by more than 80% (a 3% growth rate) in a 20 year interval.

Over half of all Europeans arrived as indentured servant
Indentured servant
Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture. Usually the father made the arrangements and signed...

s. They were young people who paid for their passage by work contracts. In addition 60,000 convicts were transported
Penal transportation
Transportation or penal transportation is the deporting of convicted criminals to a penal colony. Examples include transportation by France to Devil's Island and by the UK to its colonies in the Americas, from the 1610s through the American Revolution in the 1770s, and then to Australia between...

 to the British colonies in North America in the 18th century.


Although Spain set up a few forts in Florida, notably San Agustín (present-day Saint Augustine) in 1565, they sent few settlers. Spaniards moving north from Mexico founded the San Juan
San Juan, New Mexico
San Juan is a census-designated place in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, United States. The population was 592 at the 2000 census.-Geography:San Juan is located at , a few miles north of Espanola....

 on the Rio Grande in 1598, and Santa Fe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and is the seat of . Santa Fe had a population of 67,947 in the 2010 census...

 in 1607-1608. The settlers were forced to leave temporarily for 12 years (1680–1692) by the Pueblo Revolt
Pueblo Revolt
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680, or Popé's Rebellion, was an uprising of several pueblos of the Pueblo people against Spanish colonization of the Americas in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México.-Background:...

, but then returned.

Spanish Texas lasted between 1690 and 1821 when Texas
History of Texas
European conquistadors first arrived in the region now known as Texas in 1519, finding the region populated by various Native American tribes...

 was governed as a colony separate from New Spain
New Spain
New Spain, formally called the Viceroyalty of New Spain , was a viceroyalty of the Spanish colonial empire, comprising primarily territories in what was known then as 'América Septentrional' or North America. Its capital was Mexico City, formerly Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire...

. In 1731, Canary Islanders
Canary Islands
The Canary Islands , also known as the Canaries , is a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are a Spanish autonomous community and an outermost region of the European Union...

 (or "Isleños") arrived to establish San Antonio. The majority of the few hundred people who colonized Texas and New Mexico in the Spanish colonial period drew their identity from the Spaniards and the criollos
Criollo (people)
The Criollo class ranked below that of the Iberian Peninsulares, the high-born permanent residence colonists born in Spain. But Criollos were higher status/rank than all other castes—people of mixed descent, Amerindians, and enslaved Africans...

. In 1781 Spanish settlers founded Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...


In the late 17th century, French expeditions established a foothold on the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 and Gulf Coast. The French colony of Louisiana
Louisiana (New France)
Louisiana or French Louisiana was an administrative district of New France. Under French control from 1682–1763 and 1800–03, the area was named in honor of Louis XIV, by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle...

. After 1763 Louisiana came under the control of Spain, which sent some Canary Islanders, called Isleños
Isleño is the Spanish word meaning "islander." The Isleños are the descendants of Canary Island immigrants to Louisiana, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Americas....

 around 1780. Several thousand French-speaking refugees from the region of Acadia
Acadia was the name given to lands in a portion of the French colonial empire of New France, in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine. At the end of the 16th century, France claimed territory stretching as far south as...

 (now Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

, Canada) made their way to Louisiana following British expulsion; settling largely in the southwestern Louisiana region now called Acadiana
Acadiana, or The Heart of Acadiana, is the official name given to the French Louisiana region that is home to a large Francophone population. Of the 64 parishes that make up Louisiana, 22 named parishes and other parishes of similar cultural environment, make up the intrastate...

. Their descendants came to be called Cajun
Cajuns are an ethnic group mainly living in the U.S. state of Louisiana, consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles...

s and still dominate the coastal areas.

Population in 1790

The following were the countries of origin for new arrivals to the United States before 1790. The regions marked with an asterisk were part of Great Britain. The ancestry of the 3.9 million population in 1790 has been estimated by various sources by sampling last names in the 1790 census and assigning them a country of origin. The Irish in the 1790 census were mostly Scots Irish. The French were mostly Huguenot
The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the 17th century, people who formerly would have been called Huguenots have instead simply been called French Protestants, a title suggested by their German co-religionists, the...

s. The total U.S. Catholic population in 1790 was probably less than 5%. The Indian population inside territorial U.S. 1790 boundaries was less than 100,000.

U.S. Historical Populations
Country Immigrants Before 1790 Population 1790

Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

360,000 757,000
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

230,000 2,100,000
Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland, located in the north of the island. In ancient Ireland, it was one of the fifths ruled by a "king of over-kings" . Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the ancient kingdoms were shired into a number of counties for administrative and judicial...

135,000 300,000
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

103,000 270,000
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

48,500 150,000
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

8,000 (Incl. in Scot-Irish)
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

6,000 100,000
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

4,000 10,000
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

3,000 15,000
Jews 1,000 2,000
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

500 2,000
Other 50,000 200,000

British total
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

425,500 2,560,000
Total 950,000 3,900,000

The 1790 population reflected the approximate 50,000 Loyalists
Loyalist (American Revolution)
Loyalists were American colonists who remained loyal to the Kingdom of Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. At the time they were often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men. They were opposed by the Patriots, those who supported the revolution...

, or "Tories", who emigrated to Canada at the end of the American Revolution and the less than 10,000 others who emigrated to other British possessions including England.

The total white population in 1790 was about 80% British ancestry and roughly doubled by natural increase every 25 years. Since approximately 1675, the native born population of the U.S. has never fallen below 85% of the population.

Relentless population expansion pushed the U.S. frontier to the Pacific by 1848. Most immigrants came long distances to settle in the U.S. Many Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

, however, left Canada for the U.S. in the 1840s. French Canadians who came down from Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 after 1860 and the Mexicans who came north after 1911 found it easier to move back and forth.

Immigration 1790 to 1849

There was relatively little immigration from 1770 to 1830; indeed there was significant emigration to Canada, including about 75,000 Loyalists as well as Germans and other looking for better farms in what is now Ontario. Large scale immigration resumed in the 1830s from Britain, Ireland, Germany and other parts of western Europe. Most were attracted by the cheap farm land. Some were artisans and skilled factory workers attracted by the first stage of industrialization. The Irish Catholics were unskilled workers who built most of the canals and railroads, and settled in urban areas ranging. Many Irish went to the emerging textile mill towns of the Northeast, while others became longshoremen in the growing Atlantic and Gulf port cities. Half the Germans headed to farms, especially in the Midwest (with some to Texas), while the other half became craftsmen in urban areas.

Nativism took the form of political anti-Catholicism directed mostly at the Irish (as well as Germans). It became important briefly in the mid-1850s in the guise of the Know Nothing
Know Nothing
The Know Nothing was a movement by the nativist American political faction of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon Protestant values and controlled by...

 party. Most of the Catholic and German Lutheran ethnics became Democrats, and most of the Protestants joined the new Republican Party. During the Civil War, ethnic communities supported the war and produced large numbers of soldiers on both sides. The Irish Catholics in the North, however, became disillusioned when the war focused on ending slavery. Draft riots broke out in New York City and other Irish and German strongholds in 1863.

Based on available records, immigration totaled 8,385 in 1820, with immigration totals gradually increasing to 23,322 by the year 1830; for the 1820s decade immigration more than doubled to 143,000. Between 1831 and 1840, immigration more than quadrupled to a total of 599,000. These included about 207,000 Irish, starting to emigrate in large numbers following Britain's easing of travel restrictions, and about 152,000 Germans, 76,000 British, and 46,000 French, constituting the next largest immigrant groups of the decade.

Between 1841 and 1850, immigration nearly tripled again, totaling 1,713,000 immigrants, including at least 781,000 Irish, 435,000 Germans, 267,000 British and 77,000 French immigrants. The Irish, with the Potato Famine (1845–1849) driving them, emigrated directly from their homeland to escape poverty and death. The failed revolutions of 1848
Revolutions of 1848
The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It was the first Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority, but within a year reactionary...

 brought many intellectuals and activists to exile in the U.S. Bad times and poor conditions in Europe drove people out, while land, relatives, freedom, opportunity, and jobs in America lured them in.

Population and Foreign Born 1790 to 1849
Census Population, Immigrants per Decade
Census Population Immigrants1 Foreign Born %

1790 3,918,000 60,000
1800 5,236,000 60,000
1810 7,036,000 60,000
1820 10,086,000 60,000
1830 12,785,000 143,000 200,000 2 1.6%
1840 17,018,000 599,000 800,000 2 4.7%
1850 23,054,000 1,713,000 2,244,000 9.7%
1. The total number immigrating in each decade from 1790 to 1820 are estimates.
2. The number foreign born in 1830 and 1840 decades are extrapolations.

Starting only in 1820 some federal records, including ship passenger lists, were kept for immigration purposes, and a gradual increase in immigration was recorded; more complete immigration records provide data on immigration since 1830. Though conducted since 1790, the census of 1850 was the first in which place of birth was specially asked. The foreign-born population in the U.S. likely reached its minimum around 1815, at approximately 100,000 or 1.4% of the population. By 1815, most of the immigrants who arrived before the American Revolution had died, and there had been almost no new immigration.

Nearly all population growth up to 1830 was by internal increase; about 98.5% of the population was native-born. By 1850, this had shifted to about 90% native-born. The first significant Catholic immigration started in the mid 1840s, shifting the population from about 95% Protestant down to about 90% by 1850.

In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is the peace treaty, largely dictated by the United States to the interim government of a militarily occupied Mexico City, that ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848...

, concluding the Mexican War, extended U.S. citizenship to approximately 60,000 Mexican residents of the New Mexico Territory
New Mexico Territory
thumb|right|240px|Proposed boundaries for State of New Mexico, 1850The Territory of New Mexico was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 6, 1912, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of...

 and 10,000 living in California
History of California to 1899
Human history in California begins with indigenous Americans first arriving in California some 13,000-15,000 years ago. Exploration and settlement by Europeans along the coasts and in the inland valleys began in the 16th century...

. An additional approximate 2,500 foreign born California residents also become U.S. citizens.

In 1849, the California Gold Rush
California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands , and Latin America, who were the first to start flocking to...

 brought in over 100,000 would-be miners from the eastern U.S., Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe. California became a state in 1850 with a population of about 90,000.

Immigration 1850 to 1930


Between 1850 and 1930, about 5 million Germans immigrated to the United States with a peak in the years between 1881 and 1885, when a million Germans left Germany and settled mostly in the Midwest. Between 1820 and 1930, 3.5 million British
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 and 4.5 million Irish entered America. Before 1845 most Irish immigrants were Protestants. After 1845, Irish Catholics began arriving in large numbers, largely driven by the Great Famine
Great Famine
Great Famine may refer to any of several historical famines:* The Great Famine of 1315–1317 in northern Europe* The Great India Famine of 1344-1345...


After 1870 steam powered larger and faster ships, with lower fares. Meanwhile farming improvements in southern and eastern Europe created surplus populations that needed to move on. As usual, young people age 15 to 30 predominated among the newcomers. This wave of migration, which constituted the third episode in the history of U.S. immigration, could better be referred to as a flood of immigrants, as nearly 25 million Europeans made the voyage. Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, and others speaking Slavic languages constituted the bulk of this migration. Included among them were 2.5 to 4 million Jews.

Each group evinced a distinctive migration pattern in terms of the gender balance within the migratory pool, the permanence of their migration, their literacy rates, the balance between adults and children, and the like. But they shared one overarching characteristic: They flocked to urban destinations and made up the bulk of the U.S. industrial labor pool, making possible the emergence of such industries as steel, coal, automobile, textile, and garment production, and enabling the United States to leap into the front ranks of the world’s economic giants.

Their urban destinations, their numbers, and perhaps an antipathy towards foreigners led to the emergence of a second wave of organized xenophobia. By the 1890s, many Americans, particularly from the ranks of the well-off, white, native-born, considered immigration to pose a serious danger to the nation’s health and security. In 1893 a group of them formed the Immigration Restriction League, and it, along with other similarly inclined organizations, began to press Congress for severe curtailment of foreign immigration.

Irish and German Catholic immigration was opposed in the 1850s by the Nativist/Know Nothing
Know Nothing
The Know Nothing was a movement by the nativist American political faction of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon Protestant values and controlled by...

 movement, originating in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party
American Republican Party
The American Republican Party was a minor nativist political organization that was launched in New York in June 1843, largely as a protest against immigrant voters and officeholders. In 1844, it carried municipal elections in New York City and Philadelphia and expanded so rapidly that by July,...

. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to American values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. Active mainly from 1854–56, it strived to curb immigration and naturalization
Naturalization is the acquisition of citizenship and nationality by somebody who was not a citizen of that country at the time of birth....

, though its efforts met with little success. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

, most often joining the Republican Party
History of the United States Republican Party
The United States Republican Party is the second oldest currently existing political party in the United States after its great rival, the Democratic Party. It emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas Nebraska Act which threatened to extend slavery into the territories, and to promote more vigorous...

 by the time of the 1860 presidential election
United States presidential election, 1860
The United States presidential election of 1860 was a quadrennial election, held on November 6, 1860, for the office of President of the United States and the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the American Civil War. The nation had been divided throughout the 1850s on questions surrounding the...


European immigrants joined the Union Army
Union Army
The Union Army was the land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War. It was also known as the Federal Army, the U.S. Army, the Northern Army and the National Army...

 in large numbers, including 177,000 born in Germany and 144,000 born in Ireland. Many Germans could see the parallel between slavery and serfdom
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

 in the old fatherland.

Between 1840 and 1930, about 900,000 French Canadians left Quebec to immigrate to the United States and settle, mainly in New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

. Considering that the population of Quebec was only 892,061 in 1851, this was a massive exodus. 13.6 million Americans claimed to have French ancestry in the 1980 census. A large proportion of them have ancestors who emigrated from French Canada
French Canada
French Canada, also known as "Lower Canada", is a term to distinguish the French Canadian population of Canada from English Canada.-Definition:...

, since immigration from France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 was low throughout the history of the United States.

Shortly after the U.S. Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, some states started to pass their own immigration laws, which prompted the U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 to rule in 1875 that immigration was a federal responsibility.
In 1875, the nation passed its first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875
Page Act of 1875
The Page Act of 1875 was the first federal immigration law and prohibited the entry of immigrants considered "undesirable." The law classified as "undesirable" any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all...

, also known as the Asian Exclusion Act, outlawing the importation of unwilling Chinese women for sex slavery.

In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act
Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by Chester A. Arthur on May 8, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. Those revisions allowed the U.S. to suspend immigration, and Congress subsequently acted quickly to implement the suspension of...

. The Chinese Exclusion Act stated that there was a limited amount of immigrants of Chinese descent allowed into the United States for 10 years. The law was renewed in 1892 and 1902.

Prior to 1890, the individual states, rather than the Federal government, regulated immigration into the United States. The Immigration Act of 1891 established a Commissioner of Immigration in the Treasury Department. The Canadian Agreement
Canadian Agreement
The Canadian Agreement was a 1894 agreement between the United States and signatory transportation companies that prohibited transportation companies from landing in Canadian ports immigrants who were barred from entry in the U.S.-Background:...

 of 1894 extended U.S. immigration restrictions to Canadian ports.

The Dillingham
William P. Dillingham
William Paul Dillingham was an American Republican politician from the state of Vermont.-Early life:The son of Vermont Governor Paul Dillingham, William P. Dillingham was born on December 12, 1843, in Waterbury, Vermont, where he later attended the public schools...

 Commission was instituted by the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 in 1907 to investigate the effects of immigration on the country. The Commission's analysis of American immigration during the previous three decades led it to conclude that the major source of immigration had shifted from northern and western Europeans to southern and eastern Europeans. It was, however, apt to generalizations about regional groups that were subjective and failed to differentiate between distinct cultural attributes.

The 1910s marked the high point of Italian
Italian American
An Italian American , is an American of Italian ancestry. The designation may also refer to someone possessing Italian and American dual citizenship...

 immigration to the United States. Over two million Italians immigrated in those years, with a total of 5.3 million between 1880 and 1920. About a third returned to Italy, after working an average of five years in the U.S.

About 1.5 million Swedes and Norwegians immigrated to the United States within this period, due to opportunity in America and poverty and religious oppression in united Sweden-Norway. This accounted for around 20% of the total population of the kingdom at that time. They settled mainly in the Midwest, especially Minnesota and the Dakotas. Danes had comparably low immigration rates due to a better economy; after 1900 many Danish immigrants were Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

 converts who moved to Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

Over two million Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

ans, mainly Catholics and Jews, immigrated between 1880 and 1924. People of Polish
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 ancestry are the largest Eastern European ancestry group in the United States. Immigration of Eastern Orthodox ethnic groups was much lower.

Lebanese and Syrian
Syrian American
Syrian Americans are residents of the United States of Syrian ancestry or nationality. This group includes Americans of Syrian ancestry, Syrian first generation immigrants, or descendants of Syrians who emigrated to the United States. Syrian Americans may be members of a number of differing...

 immigrants started to settle in large numbers in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The vast majority of the immigrants from Lebanon and Syria were Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

s, but smaller numbers of Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

, Muslims and Druze
The Druze are an esoteric, monotheistic religious community, found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, which emerged during the 11th century from Ismailism. The Druze have an eclectic set of beliefs that incorporate several elements from Abrahamic religions, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism...

 also settled. Many lived in New York City and Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

. In the 1920s and 1930s, a large number of these immigrants set out west, with Detroit getting a large number of Middle Eastern immigrants, as well as many Midwestern areas where the Arabs worked as farmers.

From 1880 to 1924, around two million Jews moved to the United States, mostly seeking better opportunity in America and fleeing the pogroms of the Russian Empire. After 1934 Jews, along with any other above-quota immigration, were usually denied access to the United States.

Congress passed a literacy requirement in 1917
Immigration Act of 1917
On February 4, 1917, the United States Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917 with an overwhelming majority, overriding President Woodrow Wilson's December 14, 1916 veto...

 to curb the influx of low-skilled immigrants from entering the country.

Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act
Emergency Quota Act
The Emergency Quota Act, also known as the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, the Per Centum Law, and the Johnson Quota Act restricted immigration into the United States...

 in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924
Immigration Act of 1924
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act , was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already...

, which was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s. This ultimately resulted in precluding the all "extra" immigration to the United States, including Jews fleeing Nazi German persecution.

In 1924, quotas were set for European immigrants so that no more than 2% of the 1890 immigrant stocks were allowed into America
Immigration Act of 1924
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act , was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already...


New Immigration

"New immigration" was a term from the late 1880s that came from the influx of immigrants from southern
Southern Europe
The term Southern Europe, at its most general definition, is used to mean "all countries in the south of Europe". However, the concept, at different times, has had different meanings, providing additional political, linguistic and cultural context to the definition in addition to the typical...

 and eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 (areas that previously sent few immigrants). Some Americans feared the new arrivals. This raised the issue of whether the U.S. was still a "melting pot
Melting pot
The melting pot is a metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements "melting together" into a harmonious whole with a common culture...

," or if it had just become a "dumping ground," and many old-stock Americans worried about negative effects on the economy, politics and culture.


The issue of “whiteness” arose after 1790 when the U.S. congress began to restrict naturalization to “white persons.” While the requirements for naturalization changed over time, they still existed in one form or another until 1952. Between 1790 and 1952 there were a reported 52 cases that were brought before various courts arguing whether one was “white.” These cases not only forced the courts to define what a “white persons” was, but also explain why someone was white.

The courts offered many different explanations as to who was “white”. Over time two methods developed to help determine a persons “whiteness”; common knowledge and scientific evidence. Common knowledge was described as popular, widely held conceptions of race and racial divisions. Scientific evidence, on the other hand, dealt with the naturalistic studies of humankind. These rationales both arose out of the court case In re Ah Yup decided in 1878 by the federal district of California.

By 1909 changes in immigration demographics and scientific definitions created a schism between common and scientific knowledge. The court opted for common knowledge because “scientific manipulation” it believed had ignored racial differences by including under Caucasian “far more [people] than the unscientific mind suspects” even some persons the Court described as ranging “in color … from brown to black.” This shift from scientific knowledge to common knowledge demonstrated that, in the USA, ideas of race depended on social demarcations.

Immigration 1930 to 2000

Restriction proceeded piecemeal over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but immediately after the end of World War I (1914–1918) and into the early 1920s, Congress did change the nation’s basic policy about immigration. The National Origins Formula
National Origins Formula
The National Origins Formula was an American system of immigration quotas, between 1921 and 1965, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. The goal was to maintain the existing ethnic composition of the United States...

 of 1921 (and its final form in 1924) not only restricted the number of immigrants who might enter the United States but also assigned slots according to quotas based on national origins. A complicated piece of legislation, it essentially gave preference to immigrants from northern and western Europe, severely limited the numbers from eastern and southern Europe, and declared all potential immigrants from Asia to be unworthy of entry into the United States.

The legislation excluded the Western Hemisphere from the quota system, and the 1920s ushered in the penultimate era in U.S. immigration history. Immigrants could and did move quite freely from Mexico, the Caribbean (including Jamaica, Barbados, and Haiti), and other parts of Central and South America. This era, which reflected the application of the 1924 legislation, lasted until 1965. During those 40 years, the United States began to admit, case by case, limited numbers of refugees. Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany before World War II, Jewish Holocaust survivors after the war, non-Jewish displaced persons fleeing Communist rule in eastern Europe, Hungarians seeking refuge after their failed uprising in 1956, and Cubans after the 1960 revolution managed to find haven in the United States because their plight moved the conscience of Americans, but the basic immigration law remained in place.

Tydings-McDuffie Act

In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act
Tydings-McDuffie Act
The Tydings-McDuffie Act approved on March 24, 1934 was a United States federal law which provided for self-government of the Philippines and for Filipino independence after a period of ten years. It was authored by Maryland Senator Millard E...

, which provided for independence of the Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 on July 4, 1946, stripped Filipinos of their status as U.S. nationals. Until 1965, national origin quotas in the immigration law strictly limited immigration from the Philippines. In 1965, after revision of the immigration law, significant Filipino immigration began, totaling 1,728,000 by 2004.

Postwar immigration

In 1945, the War Brides Act
War Brides Act
The War Brides Act was enacted in 1945 to allow spouses and adopted children of United States military personnel to enter the U.S. after World War II. The law temporarily lifted the ban on Asian immigration and the quotas on European immigration that had been established by the Immigration Act of...

 allowed foreign-born wives of U.S. citizens who had served in the U.S. armed forces to immigrate to the United States. In 1946, The War Brides Act was extended to include fiancés of American soldiers who were also allowed to immigrate to the United States. In 1946, the Luce-Celler Act extended the right to become naturalized citizens to newly freed Filipinos and Asian Indians. The immigration quota was set at 100 people a year.

At the end of World War II, "regular" immigration almost immediately increased under the official national origins quota system as refugees from war torn Europe started immigrating to the U.S. After the war, there were jobs for nearly everyone who wanted one, including immigrants, while most women employed during the war went back into the home. From 1941 to 1950, 1,035,000 people immigrated to the U.S., including 226,000 from Germany, 139,000 from the UK, 171,000 from Canada, 60,000 from Mexico and 57,000 from Italy.

The Displaced Persons (DP) Act of 1948 finally allowed displaced people of World War II
Displaced persons camp
A displaced persons camp or DP camp is a temporary facility for displaced persons coerced into forced migration. The term is mainly used for camps established after World War II in West Germany and in Austria, as well as in the United Kingdom, primarily for refugees from Eastern Europe and for the...

 to start immigrating http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=12942. Some 200,000 Europeans and 17,000 orphans displaced by World War II were initially allowed to immigrate to the United States outside of immigration quotas. President Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

 signed the first DP act on June 25, 1948, allowing entry for 200,000 DPs, and then followed by the more accommodating second DP act on 16 June 1950, allowing entry for another 200,000. This quota, included acceptance of 55,000 Volksdeutschen, required sponsorship of all immigrants. The American program was the most notoriously bureaucratic of all the DP programs and much of the humanitarian effort was undertaken by charitable organizations, such as the Lutheran World Federation
Lutheran World Federation
The Lutheran World Federation is a global communion of national and regional Lutheran churches headquartered in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland. The federation was founded in the Swedish city of Lund in the aftermath of the Second World War in 1947 to coordinate the activities of the...

 and other ethnic groups. Along with an additional quota of 200,000 granted in 1953 and more in succeeding years, a total of nearly 600,000 refugees were allowed into the country outside the quota system, second only to Israel’s 650,000.


In 1950, after the start of the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

, the Internal Security Act
McCarran Internal Security Act
The Internal Security Act of 1950, , also known as the Subversive Activities Control Act or the McCarran Act, after Senator Pat McCarran , is a United States federal law of the McCarthy era. It was passed over President Harry Truman's veto...

 barred admission to any foreigner who was Communist, who might engage in activities "which would be prejudicial to the public interest, or would endanger the welfare or safety of the United States."

In 1950, the invasion of South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

 by North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 started the Korean War and left a war ravaged Korea behind. There was little U.S. immigration because of the national origin quotas in the immigration law. In 1965, after revision of the immigration law, significant Korean immigration began, totaling 848,000 by 2004.

In 1952, the McCarran Walter Immigration Act affirmed the national-origins quota system of 1924 and limited total annual immigration to one-sixth of one percent of the population of the continental United States in 1920, or 175,455. The act exempted spouses and children of U.S. citizens and people born in the Western Hemisphere from the quota. In 1953, the Refugee Relief Act
Refugee Relief Act
The Refugee Relief Act of 1953 was an act of legislation passed by the 83rd United States Congress to replace the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which expired in 1953. It resulted in the admission of 214,000 immigrants to the United States, including 60,000 Italians, 17,000 Greeks, 17,000 Dutch and...

 extended refugee status to non-Europeans.

In 1954, Operation Wetback
Operation Wetback
Operation Wetback was a 1954 operation by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to remove illegal immigrants, mostly Mexican nationals from the southwestern United States.-History:...

 forced the return of thousands of illegal immigrants to Mexico. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/OO/pqo1.html. Between 1944 and 1954, "the decade of the wetback," the number of illegal immigrants coming from Mexico increased by 6,000 percent. It is estimated that, in 1954, before Operation Wetback got under way, more than a million workers had crossed the Rio Grande illegally. Cheap labor displaced native agricultural workers, and increased violation of labor laws and discrimination encouraged criminality, disease, and illiteracy. According to a study conducted in 1950 by the President's Commission on Migratory Labor in Texas, the Rio Grande valley cotton growers were paying approximately half of the wages paid elsewhere in Texas. The United States Border Patrol aided by municipal, county, state, and federal authorities, as well as the military, began a quasi-military operation of search and seizure of all illegal immigrants. Fanning out from the lower Rio Grande valley, Operation Wetback moved northward. Illegal immigrants were repatriated initially through Presidio because the Mexican city across the border, Ojinaga, had rail connections to the interior of Mexico by which workers could be quickly moved on to Durango. The forces used by the government were actually relatively small, perhaps no more than 700 men, but were augmented by border patrol officials who hoped to scare illegal workers into fleeing back to Mexico. Ships were a preferred mode of transport because they carried the illegal workers farther away from the border than did buses, trucks, or trains. It is difficult to estimate the number of illegal immigrants that left due to the operation—most voluntarily. The INS claimed as many as 1,300,000, though the number officially apprehended did not come anywhere near this total. The program was ultimately abandoned due to questions surrounding the ethics of its implementation. Citizens of Mexican descent complained of police stopping all "Mexican looking" people and utilizing extreme “police-state” methods including deportation of American-born children who by law were citizens.

The failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution
1956 Hungarian Revolution
The Hungarian Revolution or Uprising of 1956 was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the government of the People's Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956....

, before being crushed by the Soviets, forged a temporary hole in the Iron Curtain
Iron Curtain
The concept of the Iron Curtain symbolized the ideological fighting and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1989...

 that allowed a burst of refugees to escape, bringing in 245,000 new Hungarian families to the U.S. by 1960. In the decade of 1950 to 1960, the U.S. had 2,515,000 new immigrants with 477,000 arriving from Germany, 185,000 from Italy, 52,000 new arrivals from Holland, 203,000 from the UK, 46,000 from Japan, 300,000 from Mexico, and 377,000 from Canada.

After the Cuban revolution
Cuban Revolution
The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement against the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista between 1953 and 1959. Batista was finally ousted on 1 January 1959, and was replaced by a revolutionary government led by Castro...

 of 1959, led by Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is a Cuban revolutionary and politician, having held the position of Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and then President from 1976 to 2008. He also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from the party's foundation in 1961 until 2011...

, refugees flowed in from Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

. An estimated 409,000 new families had emigrated to the U.S. by 1970.

Hart-Celler Act

This all changed with passage of the Hart-Celler Act in 1965, a by-product of the civil rights revolution and a jewel in the crown of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society
Great Society
The Great Society was a set of domestic programs in the United States promoted by President Lyndon B. Johnson and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s. Two main goals of the Great Society social reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice...

 programs. The measure had not been intended to stimulate immigration from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere in the developing world. Rather, by doing away with the racially based quota system, its authors had expected that immigrants would come from the "traditional" sending societies such as Italy, Greece, and Poland, places that labored under very small quotas in the 1924 law. The law replaced the quotas with preference categories based on family relationships and job skills, giving particular preference to potential immigrants with relatives in the United States and with occupations deemed critical by the U.S. Department of Labor. But after 1970, following an initial influx from those European countries, there were immigrants from places like Korea, China, India, the Philippines, and Pakistan, as well as countries in Africa.


In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was passed, creating, for the first time, penalties for employers who hired illegal immigrants. IRCA, as proposed in Congress, was projected to give amnesty to about 1,000,000 workers in the country illegally. In practice, amnesty for about 3,000,000 immigrants already in the United States was granted. Most were from Mexico. Legal Mexican immigrant family numbers were 2,198,000 in 1980, 4,289,000 in 1990 (includes IRCA) and 7,841,000 in 2000. Adding in another 12,000,000 illegals of which about 80% are thought to be Mexicans would bring the Mexican family total to over 16,000,000—about 16% of the Mexican population.

Immigration summary since 1830

The top ten countries of birth of the foreign born population in the U.S. since 1830, according to the U.S. Census, are shown below. Blank entries mean that the country did not make it into the top ten for that census, and not that there are ‘’no’’ data from that census. The 1830 numbers are from immigration statistics as listed in the 2004 Year Book of Immigration Statistics http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/shared/statistics/. *The 1830 numbers list un-naturalized foreign citizens in 1830 and does not include naturalized foreign born. The 1850 census is the first census that asks for place of birth. The historical census data can be found online in the Virginia Library Geostat Center http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/ Population numbers are in thousands.

Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status Fiscal Years 1820 to 2010
Year Year Year
1820 8,385 1885 395,346 1950 249,187
1825 10,199 1890 455,302 1955 237,790
1830 23,322 1895 258,536 1960 265,398
1835 45,374 1900 448,572 1965 296,697
1840 84,066 1905 1,026,499 1970 373,326
1845 114,371 1910 1,041,570 1975 385,378
1850 369,980 1915 326,700 1980 524,295
1855 200,877 1920 430,001 1985 568,149
1860 153,640 1925 294,314 1990 1,535,872
1865 248,120 1930 241,700 1995 720,177
1870 387,203 1935 34,956 2000 841,002
1875 227,498 1940 70,756 2005 1,122,257
1880 457,257 1945 38,119 2010 1,042,625

Source: US Department of Homeland Security, Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2010

Country/Year 1830* 1850 1880 1900 1930 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000
Austria 305 214
Bohemia |85
Canada 2 148 717 1,180 1,310 953 812 843 745 678
China |104 1,391
Cuba 439 608 737 952
Czechoslovakia 492
Dominican Republic 692
El Salvador 765
France 9 54 107
Germany 8 584 1,967 2,663 1,609 990 833 849 712
Hungary 245
India 2,000
Ireland 54 962 1,855 1,615 745 339
Italy 484 1,790 1,257 1,009 832 581
Korea 290 568 701
Mexico 11 13 641 576 760 2,199 4,298 7,841
Netherlands 1 10
Norway 13 182 336
Pakistan 724
Philippines 501 913 1,222
Poland 1,269 748 548 418
Russia/Soviet Union 424 1,154 691 463 406
Sweden 194 582 595
Switzerland 3 13 89
United Kingdom 27 379 918 1,168 1,403 833 686 669 640
Vietnam 543 863
Total Foreign Born 108* 2,244 6,679 10,341 14,204 10,347 9,619 14,079 19,763 31,100
% Foreign Born 0.8%* 9.7% 13.3% 13.6% 11.6% 5.8% 4.7% 6.2% 7.9% 11.1%
Native Born 12,677 20,947 43,476 65,653 108,571 168,978 193,591 212,466 228,946 250,321
% Native Born 99.2% 90.3% 86.7% 86.4% 88.4% 94.2% 95.3% 94% 92.1% 88.9%
Total Population 12,785 23,191 50,155 75,994 122,775 179,325 203,210 226,545 248,709 281,421
1830 1850 1880 1900 1930 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

See also

  • Immigration to the United States
    Immigration to the United States
    Immigration to the United States has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of the history of the United States. The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding ethnicity, economic benefits, jobs for non-immigrants,...

  • History of immigration to Canada
    History of immigration to Canada
    The history of immigration to Canada extends back thousands of years. Anthropologists continue to argue over various possible models of migration to modern day Canada, as well as their pre-contact populations. The Inuit are believed to have arrived entirely separately from other indigenous peoples...

  • History of immigration to Australia

Recent migrations

Historical studies

  • Alexander, June Granatir. Daily Life in Immigrant America, 1870-1920: How the Second Great Wave of Immigrants Made Their Way in America (2nd ed. Ivan R. Dee, 2009) 332 pp.
  • Archdeacon, Thomas J. Becoming American: An Ethnic History (1984)
  • Bankston, Carl L. III and Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo, eds. Immigration in U.S. History (2006)
  • Berquist, James M. Daily Life in Immigrant America, 1820-1870: How the First Great Wave of Immigrants Made Their Way in America (2nd ed. Ivan R. Dee, 2009) 329 pp.
  • Cohn, Raymond L. Mass Migration under Sail: European Immigration to the Antebellum United States (2009) 254 pp.; emphasis on economic issues
  • Daniels, Roger. Coming to America 2nd ed. (2002) ISBN 006050577X
  • Daniels, Roger. Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (2005)
  • Eltis, David; Coerced and Free Migration: Global Perspectives (2002) emphasis on migration to Americas before 1800
  • Glynn, Irial: Emigration Across the Atlantic: Irish, Italians and Swedes compared, 1800-1950 , European History Online
    European History Online
    European History Online is an academic website that publishes articles on the history of Europe between the period of 1450 and 1950 according to the principle of open access. EGO is issued by the Institute of European History in Mainz in cooperation with the Center for Digital Humanities in Trier ...

    , Mainz: Institute of European History, 2011, retrieved: June 16, 2011.
  • Handlin, Oscar. The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People (1951), classic interpretive history; Pulitzer prize for history
  • Handlin, Oscar. Children of the Uprooted (1971)
  • Hoerder, Dirk and Horst Rössler, eds. Distant Magnets: Expectations and Realities in the Immigrant Experience, 1840-1930 1993. 312pp
  • Hourwich, Isaac. Immigration and Labor: The Economic Aspects of European Immigration to the United States (1912), argues immigrants were beneficial to natives by pushing them upward
  • Jenks, Jeremiah W. and W. Jett Lauck, The Immigrant Problem (1912; 6th ed. 1926) based on 1911 Immigration Commission report, with additional data
  • Kulikoff, Allan; From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers (2000), details on colonial immigration
  • LeMay, Michael, and Elliott Robert Barkan. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History (1999)
  • Miller, Kerby M. Emigrants and Exiles (1985), influential scholarly interpretation of Irish immigration
  • Motomura, Hiroshi. Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States (2006), legal history
  • U.S. Immigration Commission, Reports of the Immigration Commission (1911) complete set of reports
  • Wittke, Carl. We Who Built America: The Saga of the Immigrant (1939), 552pp good older history that covers major groups


  • Archdeacon, Thomas J. "Problems and Possibilities in the Study of American Immigration and Ethnic History," International Migration Review Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring, 1985), pp. 112-134 in JSTOR
  • Diner, Hasia. "American Immigration and Ethnic History: Moving the Field Forward, Staying the Course," Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 2006, Vol. 25 Issue 4, pp 130–141
  • Gabaccia, Donna. "Immigrant Women: Nowhere at Home?" Journal of American Ethnic History Vol. 10, No. 4 (Summer, 1991), pp. 61-87 in JSTOR
  • Gabaccia, Donna R. "Do We Still Need Immigration History?," Polish American Studies Vol. 55, No. 1 (Spring, 1998), pp. 45-68 in JSTOR
  • Gerber, David A. "Immigration Historiography at the Crossroads." Reviews in American History v39#1 (2011): 74-86. in Project MUSE
    Project MUSE
    Project MUSE is an online database of current and back issues of peer-reviewed humanities and social sciences journals. It was founded in 1993 by Todd Kelley and Susan Lewis and is a project of the Johns Hopkins University Press and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. It had support from the Mellon...

  • Gerber, David A. "What's Wrong with Immigration History?" Reviews in American History v 36 (December 2008): 543-56.
  • Gjerde, Jon. "New Growth on Old Vines—The State of the Field: The Social History of Ethnicity and Immigration in the United States," Journal of American Ethnic History 18 (Summer 1999): 40-65.
  • Harzig, Christiane, and Dirk Hoerder. What is Migration History (2009) excerpt and text search
  • Joranger, Terje, and Mikael Hasle. "A Historiographical Perspective on the Social History of Immigration to and Ethnicity in the United States," Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, Jan 2009, Vol. 60 Issue 1, pp 5–24
  • Jung, Moon-Ho. "Beyond These Mythical Shores: Asian American History and the Study of Race," History Compass, March 2008, Vol. 6 Issue 2, pp 627–638
  • Kazal, Russell A. "Revisting Assimilation: The Rise, Fall, and Reappraisal of a Concept in American Ethnic History," American Historical Review Vol. 100, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 437-471 in JSTOR
  • Kenny, Kevin. "Twenty Years of Irish American Historiography," Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 2009, Vol. 28 Issue 4, pp 67–75
  • Lederhendler, Eli. "The New Filiopietism, or Toward a New History of Jewish Immigration to America," American Jewish History, March 2007, Vol. 93 Issue 1, pp 1–20
  • Meagher, Timothy J. "From the World to the Village and the Beginning to the End and After: Research Opportunities in Irish American History," Journal of American Ethnic History, Summer 2009, Vol. 28 Issue 4, pp 118–135
  • Persons, Stow. Ethnic Studies in Chicago, 1905-1945 (1987), on Chicago school of sociology
  • Ross, Dorothy. The Origins of American Social Science (1992), pp 143–71, 303-89 on early sociologcal studies
  • Rothman, David J. "The Uprooted: Thirty Years Later," Reviews in American History 10 (September 1982): 311-19, on influence of Oscar Handlin
    Oscar Handlin
    Oscar Handlin was an American historian. As a professor of history at Harvard University for over 50 years, he directed 80 PhD dissertations and helped promote social and ethnic history...

    in JSTOR
  • Stolarik, M. Mark. "From Field to Factory: The Historiography of Slovak Immigration to the United States," International Migration Review, Spring 1976, Vol. 10 Issue 1, pp 81–102 in JSTOR
  • Ueda, Reed, ed., A Companion to American Immigration (2006, Blackwell Companion to American History Series)
  • Vecoli, Rudolph J. "Contadini in Chicago: A Critique of The Uprooted," Journal of American History 5 (December 1964): 404-17, critique of Handlin in JSTOR
  • Vecoli, Rudolph J. "'Over the Years I Have Encountered the Hazards and Rewards that Await the Historian of Immigration,' George M. Stephenson and the Swedish American Community," Swedish American Historical Quarterly 51 (April 2000): 130-49.
  • Weinberg, Sydney Stahl, et al. "The Treatment of Women in Immigration History: A Call for Change" Journal of American Ethnic History Vol. 11, No. 4 (Summer, 1992), pp. 25-69 in JSTOR