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Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. Vol. 4. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. p219-230.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2003 Charles Scribner's Sons, COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning
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Page 219


IMMIGRATION. Except for some 2.5 million Native Americans and Alaska natives, the 281 million persons recorded in the 2000 census are immigrants and their descendants. Some 70 million immigrants have come to what is now the United States, beginning with the Spanish settlers in Florida and New Mexico in the late sixteenth century. The United States only began counting immigrants in 1819, so the numbers before that time are problematic.

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Immigration by Centuries
16th–18th century 1,000,000
19th century 19,000,000
20th century 47,000,000
Total (legal or legalized) 67,000,000
Illegal Immigration (at least) 3,000,000
Total 70,000,000

Table 1 shows a reasonable estimate of total immigration, legal and illegal, by centuries; as it shows, more than twothirds of all the immigrants who have come arrived in the twentieth century.

For a long time it seemed appropriate to many historians of immigration to focus on the so-called "century of immigration" that ran from 1815, the end of the Napoleonic Wars, to 1924, the date of the most restrictive immigration law in U.S. history. However, the large movements that occurred after World War II make such an emphasis inappropriate.

Beginning of the Twenty-First Century

Approximately 24 million immigrants—36 percent of all who have ever come—had arrived since 1960, leading many to fear that immigrants were swamping the nation. In fact, even in the immigrant-rich decade after 1990, the rate of immigration—computed by dividing the yearly number of immigrants by the total population—was well below peak level. In both the decade after 1850 and the one after 1900, the rate was over 10; for the first eight years after 1990, the rate was only 3.6. Such baseless fears about immigration—called "nativism" since the mid-nineteenth century—have often been present in America.

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Most of the million immigrants who arrived in the nearly two and a half centuries between the Spanish founding of St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 and 1800 came during the years of peace between the 1680s and the 1770s. Between the outbreak of the American Revolution and Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 there was little nonmilitary immigration, although perhaps eighty thousand American Loyalists emigrated during and after the Revolution, mostly to Canada and Britain.

Since the largest single component of colonial immigration was English, and since Great Britain was the final European winner in the imperial wars of the era, the English language, English law, and English religious practices became norms to which later immigrants would be expected to conform. To be sure, the New World environment as well as distance and time worked cultural transformations, as did the influence of both aboriginal peoples and non-English immigrants. But the English were what John Higham has called the "charter group" and set norms for others to meet. About 48 percent of the total nonaboriginal population at the first census in 1790 has been estimated to be of English origin.

English: Virginia and the South. Permanent English settlement began at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 and, although there were non-English in most settlements, English immigrants predominated in every seventeenth-century colony except New York. The Virginia colony was for two decades a demographic disaster in which more than half of the immigrants died within a year or so. The immigrant population there and in other southern colonies was heavily male, so natural increase—the excess of births over deaths—did not begin much before the beginning of the eighteenth century, if then.

Why then did English immigrants continue to come? Most were probably ignorant of the true conditions and for many there was no choice. A majority of those English who migrated to the American South in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were indentured servants. The dependence on tobacco growing in Virginia created almost insatiable demands for labor, which were eventually filled by enslaved African immigrants, but for decades, most indentured laborers were English and other Britons. Later in the eighteenth century about fifty thousand persons, overwhelmingly male, were "transported" from English prisons to British colonies.

But others came voluntarily, attracted by the availability of land and the possibility of wealth—what students of migration call a "pull factor," and/or repelled by wretched economic conditions and poor future prospects in England—a so-called push factor.

Maryland, where settlement conditions were less harsh than in Virginia, was founded as a refuge for English Catholics. Much of the gentry was Catholic, but they were soon outnumbered by Protestant lower orders. South Carolina had settlement patterns similar to those in Virginia, but, because of Charleston, the one city of any size in a southern colony, it had more non-British immigrants, including French Huguenots and a few Jews, among its elite population.

English: Massachusetts and New England. Most of the early migration to Massachusetts, beginning with the Pilgrims in 1620, was family migration, much of it religiously motivated. Most of the leading figures and a considerable number of the lesser lights were Protestant dissenters from the Church of England. For significant numbers of the "lesser sort," economic motives predominated. The largest increment of immigrants to New England, perhaps twenty-five thousand persons, came during the "great migration" of the two decades before 1641. Unlike the colonies on the Chesapeake, which were immigrant colonies until the beginning of the eighteenth century, persons born in the New World were a majority of the New England settlers within a few decades of settlement.

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New England was less affected by non-British immigration than any other section.

Africans. Africans and their descendents have never been more statistically prominent in American society than in the colonial period. The best estimate is that, at the first federal census in 1790, Africans and their descendents were about 20 percent of the population. The earliest Africans in British North America—brought to Jamestown in 1619—were first treated as indentured servants. By about 1700 in all parts of the American colonies, most Africans were enslaved. Philip Curtin's conservative 1969 estimate judged that almost 430,000 Africans were brought to what is now the United States, about 4.5 percent of all those brought to the New World by the African slave trade. Africans made up more than a third of all immigrants to the United States before 1810. Perhaps fifty thousand more were brought after the United States outlawed further imports of foreign slaves in 1808; those fifty thousand were the first illegal immigrants and the only ones before 1882. Africans and African Americans were found in every colony and state: in 1790 more than 90 percent of the 750,000 Negroes enumerated in the census lived in the South, a percentage that remained fairly constant until well after the World War II era.

Until well into the twentieth century, scholars believed that African immigrants were stripped of their culture and brought nothing but their labor to the United States. It is now clear that African contributions to early American culture were considerable, consisting largely of agricultural and craft techniques.

Other Europeans. The largest groups of non-English Europeans in the new United States were Irish, 7.6 percent; German, 6.9 percent; and Dutch, 2.5 percent; but they were distributed quite differently. The Irish, almost all of whom were Protestants, were dispersed widely throughout the colonies and had little impact as a group although a number of individuals were quite influential. The Germans, whose immigration in significant numbers began only in 1683, were heavily concentrated in Pennsylvania, where they constituted a third of the population. Many came as indentured servants, often called "redemptioners" because other relatives who had either come as free immigrants or had gained their freedom, would frequently purchase their remaining time. Their presence—and their politics—inspired some of the earliest American nativism. In 1751 Benjamin Franklin complained, "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs. …"

Franklin's fears, of course, were groundless. Although the English and Germans each constituted about a third of Pennsylvania's population, most of the rest were Britons—Irish, Scots, and Welsh. The only ethnic political power exercised by a non-English group was in New York, where the Dutch had been in charge until the bloodlessPage 222  |  Top of Article English conquest of 1660. Even though they were less than a sixth of the state's 1790 population, the Dutch, because of their status and wealth, continued to exercise significant political power. Although all of the American port cities, even Boston, contained considerable ethnic diversity in the colonial period, only New York was truly polyglot. Swedes had settled on the Delaware while a number of French Huguenots settled throughout the colonies: other French, the Acadians, were expelled by the British in 1755 from Nova Scotia and scattered throughout the colonies. Many wound up in Louisiana, which became an American territory after 1803.

The Nineteenth Century

The 19 million immigrants who came during the nineteenth century arrived at a generally accelerating pace, as table 2 indicates.

The Civil War in the first half of the 1860s and the economic slump during much of the 1890s account for the two decades in which the numbers decreased. But mere numbers do not properly indicate the impact of immigration: it is important to understand the rate or incidence of immigration. For example, in 1854 some 425,000 immigrants came, making it by far the heaviest single antebellum year for the arrival of immigrants. As there were about 26 million persons in the United States that year, the new immigrants amounted to, as such numbers are usually cited, 16 per 1,000 of the nation's people. Table 3 shows the rate of immigration per thousand averaged for each decade from the 1820s to the 1890s. Thus, the increase in actual numbers of immigrants from the 1860s to the 1870s was, in terms of incidence, a slight decrease. Beginning in 1850 each decennial census has recorded place of birth for every person enumerated, making it possible to calculate the percentage of foreign born in the population as indicated in table 4. The amazing consistency of the percentage of foreign-born persons shows clearly that, despite the fluctuations in other data, foreigners had a stable incidence in American life for a seventy-year period.



Immigration to the United States, 1801–1900
*No statistics were collected prior to 1819. The data are taken from official sources.
Period Number
1801–1820 Fewer than 100,000*
1821–1830 151,824
1831–1840 599,125
1841–1850 1,713,251
1851–1860 2,598,214
1861–1870 2,314,824
1871–1880 2,812,891
1881–1890 5,246,613
1891–1900 3,687,564
Total c. 19,200,000



Rate of Immigration per 1,000, 1821–1900
1821–1830 1.2
1831–1840 3.9
1841–1850 8.4
1851–1860 9.3
1861–1870 6.4
1871–1880 6.2
1881–1890 9.2
1891–1900 5.3



Foreign Born as a Percentage of Total Population, 1850–1920
1850 9.7
1860 13.2
1870 14.0
1880 13.3
1890 14.7
1900 13.6
1910 14.7
1920 13.2

From the 1830s through the 1860s a majority of immigrants were from just two ethnic groups—Irish and German. There were some 2.3 million of each, and in the 1850s and 1860s they were more than 70 percent of all immigrants. Their profiles, however, were quite different.

Irish. For the Irish, one terrible event, the potato famine of the second half of the 1840s, has dominated the memory of emigration, but there was substantial Irish immigration both before and after the famine. The root causes of Irish migration were mass poverty, underdevelopment, and a burgeoning population. Irish population almost doubled in the half-century after 1791 so that on the eve of the famine there were 8.1 million persons in Ireland. In the 1830s over 200,000 Irish had immigrated to the United States, and large numbers went to Canada and across the Irish Sea to England. Those Irish and their predecessors came largely as single men, and Irish labor was vital to much of the American "internal improvements" of the era. Some three thousand Irishmen had done most of the digging for the Erie Canal before 1820 and several thousand dug the New Canal in New Orleans in the 1830s.

The great famine that began in 1845 had as its proximate cause an infestation of the fungus Phytophthora infestans. This blight was well known in Ireland: it had occurred at least twenty times in the previous 125 years andPage 223  |  Top of Article did not cause alarm at first. But in 1846 it struck more completely than ever before or since and triggered the last peacetime famine in western European history. Its impact was exacerbated by the disdain and ineptitude of the British government and Irish landlords as well as by the poverty and ignorance of the people. Disease, the constant companion of famine, took its toll. That and massive emigration in the next ten years reduced the population of Ireland by some 2.5 million people—nearly one person in three.

The migration of the famine years and beyond was largely family migration. Relatively few Irish settled in rural America, and the vast majority became residents of east coast cities between Boston and Baltimore, although there were large groups of Irish in such western cities as Cincinnati, Chicago, and San Francisco. They often filled the worst neighborhoods, such as the infamous Five Points in New York City. But they also began to fill the new urban occupations and came, in many cities, to dominate public services, particularly police and fire departments, and such new urban occupations as horse car drivers. And in city after city, they played a larger role in politics than their mere numerical incidence would indicate. Most became traditionally associated with the Democratic Party.

Before the end of the century, young, unmarried women became the majority of Irish emigrants. This reflected, in part, demographic and cultural changes greatly influenced by the famine and endemic poverty. Ireland had the oldest average age at marriage and the greatest percentage of persons who never married of any nation in western Europe. The Irish emigrants of these years were overwhelmingly Catholic and they soon came to dominate the Roman Catholic Church in America. For the Irish, and to a lesser degree for other Catholic immigrants, the immigrant church became what its historian, Jay P. Dolan, termed a fortress helping to protect its faithful from a largely hostile Protestant world.

Anti-Catholic hostility was nowhere stronger than among the Protestant Irish already in America. Most American Protestant Irish began, in the 1830s and 1840s, to call themselves Scotch Irish, a term never used in Ireland or anywhere else. They formed the backbone of the most militant anti-Catholic movements in the United States, including the so-called Know-Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s and the American Protective Association of the 1880s and 1890s.

Germans. The major push factor in nineteenth-century German immigration was the modernization of the German economy, which dislocated millions of Germans, a minority of whom chose emigration as a response. The Germans were the most numerous of nineteenth-century immigrants. They settled heavily in eastern cities from New York to Baltimore and in the midwestern area known as the German triangle, whose corners were Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. While most came in at eastern ports, a large number of those who settled in the "triangle" came to southern ports carried by ships in the cotton trade and made their way north by river boat and then railroad. Those in the cities worked largely at artisanal and mechanical pursuits, while one industry—the production of lager beer—was dominated by German producers and, for a time, consumers. Large numbers of German immigrants settled in rural areas, and some German American groups have shown very high levels of persistence in agriculture over several generations.

Although seventeenth-and eighteenth-century German migration was almost all Protestant, and although Protestants have probably been a majority of German immigrants in every decade except the 1930s, very sizable numbers of those since 1800 have been Catholics, and a significant minority of them have been Jewish. Among the German Protestants the majority have always been Lutherans, even during the colonial period, when a considerable number were Mennonites of various persuasions.

One of the most impressive aspects of German immigration was the vast cultural apparatus German Americans created: newspapers, magazines, theaters, musical organizations, and schools proliferated throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. Some of these institutions, particularly the German kindergartens, had great influence on the national culture. The Germans were largely Republican in politics. On one of the great cultural issues of the era—Prohibition—most took the wet rather than the dry side.

Scandinavians. Almost 1.5 million Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes came to America in the nineteenth century, and perhaps 750,000 followed in the twentieth. Predominantly agricultural, Scandinavians were driven to migrate by expanding populations and a shortage of arable land. No European country sent a greater proportion of its population to America than Norway. Most Scandinavians settled initially in the upper Midwest and the Great Plains, with a large later migration, some of it second generation, to the Pacific Northwest. They were overwhelmingly Protestant: the major exception was some 25,000 Scandinavian converts to Mormonism whose passage to Utah was aided by a church immigration fund. The Scandinavian groups founded a relatively large number of colleges for the training of ministers of religion, the first ethnic groups to do so in any significant degree since the colonial era. In politics they were even more predominantly Republican than the Germans, with a heavy tilt toward the dry side of the Prohibition issue.

Era of Industrial Expansion, 1870s–1920

Prior to the Civil War, most immigrants settled in rural and small town America, although the incidence of immigrants in cities was higher than that of native-born Americans. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, as the industrial sector of the American economy became more dynamic, the cities, and the jobs that they held, attracted more and more immigrants. At the same time, the spread of railroad networks in Europe and the development of shipping lines for whom immigrants were

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"Huddled Masses … Breathe Free." After a view of the welcoming Statue of Liberty, new immigrants arrive at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, the primary gateway to America in the early twentieth century. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

the major purpose rather than a sideline meant that more, and more ethnically varied, immigrants were able to cross the Atlantic. Although immigrants left from almost every port city in Europe, the lion's share left through Hamburg, Bremen, and Liverpool in the north and Genoa, Naples, and Trieste in the south. Conditions in the steer-age sections in which most immigrants came were frightful, particularly on the vessels from southern ports, but at least in the age of steam the voyages were measured in days rather than weeks.

Contrary to the impression often given, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe did not begin to outnumber those from western Europe until the 1890s. Even in the first two decades of the twentieth century immigrants from western Europe were some two-fifths of all immigrants. Poles, Italians, and eastern European Jews were the dominant European immigrant groups from the 1890s, although every European nationality was represented. These later immigrants are often described as "new immigrants," a euphemism for "undesirable." The United States Immigration Commission, for example, in its 1911 report that was a stimulus for immigration restriction, described such immigrants as having "no intention of permanently changing their residence, their only purpose in coming to America being to temporarily take advantage of the greater wages paid for industrial labor in this country."

The charge of sojourning had been raised first against two non-European groups: the 250,000 Chinese who had begun to immigrate to California and the West Coast about the time of the gold rush of 1849, and the perhaps 500,000 French Canadians who poured into New England mill towns in the post–Civil War decades. While most Chinese immigrants were barred by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, French Canadian immigrants remained unrestricted. The antisojourner argument ignored both the positive economic contributions that each group made and the fact that many Chinese and perhaps most French Canadian immigrants made permanent homes in the United States. The 1920 census identified some 850,000 first-and second-generation French Canadians, and some 60,000 Chinese.

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Many of the European immigrants of the industrial era did come as sojourners, and some came more than once. In one early-twentieth-century survey at Ellis Island, every tenth Italian reported having been in the United States before. Like their predecessors they were primarily motivated by economic opportunity; what set them off from most of their predecessors was that most found industrial rather than agricultural employment.

Poles are difficult to enumerate because immigration data reflect nationality rather than ethnicity and most Poles had German, Russian, or Austrian nationality. The best approximation of their number comes from the 1910 census, which showed nearly 950,000 foreign-born persons who said that their mother tongue was Polish. Poles settled largely in the industrial region around the Great Lakes, and were concentrated in cities between Buffalo and Milwaukee. Polish immigrants were chiefly employed in factory work, often in the dirtiest and most difficult jobs.

Between 1890 and 1920 more than four million Italians were recorded as entering the United States. No other group had come to the United States in such numbers in a comparable period of time. Their prime region of settlement was near the eastern seaboard between Boston and Philadelphia, with goodly settlements in Chicago and northern California. Unlike the Poles, Italians were concentrated in outdoor employment in road construction, railroad maintenance, and in the less-skilled aspects of the building trades. A significant number of young, mostly unmarried Italian and Italian American women were employed in the garment trades.

Like the Poles, eastern European Jews are difficult to track in the immigration data. Again in the 1910 census more than a million persons reported Yiddish or Hebrew as a mother tongue. (German Jewish immigrants would have reported German.) More than 850,000 of them were of Russian nationality, many of whom came from what is now Poland and the Baltic states; almost 125,000 came from some part of the Austrian Empire, and some 40,000 from Romania. Most had suffered some degree of persecution in Europe, and of all the immigrant groups in the industrial era, Jews were the least likely to sojourn. Almost all came intending to stay and did so. One scholar has calculated the remigration rate for European immigrants to the United States of various ethnicities in this era and found that fewer than 5 percent of Jews returned, as opposed to about a third of Poles and some 45 percent of Italians. Similarly, although there was a male majority for every European group of immigrants except the Irish, males were only about 55 percent of the Jews, while nearly two-thirds of the Poles and almost three-quarters of the Italians were male. For some of the other ethnic groups in this era both rates were even higher. Serb immigrants, for example, were calculated to have been 90 percent male and remigrated at a rate of almost 88 percent.

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Annual Immigration and Emigration, 1905–1914*
*Fiscal year ending 30 June
**Emigrants not recorded before 1908
Year Immigrants Emigrants** Net Migration
1905 1,026,499    
1906 1,100,735    
1907 1,285,349    
1908 782,870 395,073 387,797
1909 751,785 225,802 525,983
1910 1,041,570 202,436 839,134
1911 878,587 295,666 582,291
1912 838,172 333,262 504,910
1913 1,197,892 308,190 889,702
1914 1,218,480 303,338 915,142
Total 10,121,939    

The ten years before the outbreak of World War I saw the highest number of legal immigrants entering the United States than in any ten-year period before or since. These figures added fuel to the raging restrictionist fires. But, as the data in table 5 show, return migration was also heavy; the incidence of foreign born in the population remained remarkably constant, as was shown in table 4.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 transformed American migration patterns, both internal and external. The surge of Allied war orders beginning in the spring of 1915 plus the requirements of American "preparedness" and, after April 1917, war needs, increased the demands for workers in northern factories. The drastic drop in the numbers of European immigrants—from a million a year just before the war to an average of only about 100,000 annually between 30 June 1914 and 30 June 1919—helped to stimulate the so-called "Great Migration" of African Americans from the South to northern cities. This migration involved perhaps 500,000 persons between 1916 and 1918 and probably another million before the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

1920s to 2000

In the 1920s, despite President Warren G. Harding's call for "normalcy," immigration was not allowed to return to the essentially laissez faire pattern that had prevailed for everyone except Asians throughout U.S. history. The Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 put numerical caps on European immigration while stopping Asian immigration except for Filipinos, who, as American nationals, could not be excluded. (Asia, as defined by Congress, did not include Russian-Soviet Asia, or nations from Persia-Iran east.) The onset of the Great Depression plus administrative regulations designed chiefly to stop otherwise unrestricted Mexican immigration, reduced immigration significantly, and World War II reduced it even further as table 6 demonstrates.

The steady reduction in the number of immigrants and the accompanying decline in foreign born from 13.2 percent in 1920 to 6.9 percent in 1950 mask three important wartime developments that helped to reshape the patterns of American immigration in the second half of the twentieth century. These were the beginning of the refugee crisis, repeal of the Chinese exclusion acts, and the increase of the Mexican presence in the American labor force.

The anti-Semitic policies of Nazi Germany that began in 1933 precipitated the refugee crisis, which was neither fully understood nor dealt with adequately by the nations of the West. Vice President Walter Mondale's 1979 judgment that the western democracies "failed the test of civilization" is a good capsule summary. Many have blamed this aspect of the Holocaust on the 1924 immigration act. But while many of the supporters of that act had anti-Semitic motives, the quota system it set up, while stacked against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, provided a relatively generous quota for Germany. Between 1933 and 1940, fewer than half of the 211,895 German quota spaces were filled. At the beginning of the Nazi era, few German Jews were ready to leave their native land; however, during much of the 1930s, willful obstruction by many American consular officials frustrated the attempts of German Jews to gain admission to the United States, often with fatal consequences.

The administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which innovated in so many areas of American life, was conservative on this issue: there was no New Deal for immigration. Critics have correctly pointed to the undemocratically recruited foreign service as largely culpable in denying asylum to many, but the president himself, out of political caution, on several occasions refused to act. The failure to support legislation to admit Jewish children and the refusal to allow refugee passengers on the ill-fated German liner St. Louis to land even though the ship was in American waters are clear examples of Roosevelt's misfeasance.

On the other hand, once war came the president exercised his vaunted administrative ingenuity to assist refugees. The most significant example of this was his instruction to Labor Secretary Frances Perkins to allow refugees who were in the United States on six-month visitor visas to "roll-over" such visas indefinitely every six months, making them, for all intents and purposes, resident aliens. Later arrangements were made with Canada to allow many such persons to make pro forma exits from the United States and return immediately on immigrant visas. And, in 1944, as awareness of the dimensions of the Holocaust grew, Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board by executive order. Its function was to save Jews and other refugees in Europe, but its mandate did not include bringing them to the United States. In June 1944 Roosevelt invented a way to get refugees into the country: something he called "parole power." He used it only once, in what historians have called a "token shipment" of nearly

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Immigration and Emigration, 1921–1945
Period Immigration Average Emigration Average Net Immigration Average
1921–1924 2,344,599 586,150 604,699 151,168 1,739,930 439,982
1925–1930 1,762,610 293,768 440,377 73,396 1,322,233 220,372
1931–1940 528,431 52,843 459,738 45,974 68,693 6,869
1941–1945 170,949 34,190 42,696 8,540 128,253 25,650

1,000 persons, almost all of them Jews who were kept in a camp at Oswego, New York, in the charge of the War Relocation Authority, whose major function was to warehouse Japanese Americans. Although the "parolees" were supposed to go back to Europe after the war, only one did. Roosevelt's successors used parole power to bring in hundreds of thousands of refugees, very few of them Jews, until the Refugee Act of 1980 regularized such admissions. Between 1946 and 2000 more than 3.5 million persons were admitted to the United States as refugees of one kind or another and many persons who were in fact refugees entered in other categories.

The repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, which also made alien Chinese eligible for naturalization, presaged a retreat from the blatant racism that had characterized American immigration policies. Similar legislation was passed regarding "natives of India" and Filipinos in 1946, and in 1952 the otherwise reactionary McCarran-Walter Act ended all ethnic bars to immigration and made naturalization color blind. Between 1943 and 2000, perhaps 8 million Asians, most of them from the formerly "barred zone," legally immigrated to the United States.

A third wartime initiative with long-term consequences for immigration was the so-called bracero program, which brought some 200,000 "temporary" Mexican workers to the United States, about half of whom worked in California. The program was restarted in 1951 during the Korean War and continued until 1964. In 1959 alone, 450,000 braceros were brought to the United States. None of these were counted as immigrants; many stayed or returned, contributing to the illegal immigrant phenomenon that loomed large in later immigration and even larger in rhetoric about it. The cumulative effect of the bracero program plus legal and illegal immigration was to make Mexico the largest single national contributor, by far, to immigration to the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. Since 1940 some 5 million Mexicans have either legally immigrated to the United States or been legalized later.

Tables 7 and 8 summarize the 26 million legal or legalized immigrants who entered the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. As table 8 demonstrates, not only did the total number of immigrants increase with each decade, but European immigration, which had always dominated American immigration, accounted for only one immigrant in five during the second half of the century.



Immigration and Foreign Born, 1951–2000
*In last year of period, i.e., 1960, 1970, etc.
**lowest figure ever recorded; no data before 1850
Years Immigration (millions) Foreign Born* (millions) Percentage of Foreign Born
1951–1960 2.5 9.7 5.4%
1961–1970 3.3 9.6 4.7%**
1971–1980 4.5 14.1 6.2%
1981–1990 7.3 19.8 8.0%
1991–2000 8.4 29.3 10.4%



Sources of Immigration to the United States, 1951–1998 (in millions)
Years  Europe Asia Americas Africa Other Total
1951–1960 1.32 0.15 1.00 .01 .01 2.5
1961–1970 1.12 0.42 1.72 .03 .03 3.3
1971–1980 0.80 1.59 1.98 .08 .04 4.5
1981–1990 0.76 2.74 3.62 .18 .05 7.3
1991–1998 1.30 2.63 4.10 .31 .07 8.4
Total 5.30 7.53 12.42 .61 .20 26.0

Prior to the 1930s, almost all of the immigrants had come in at or near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and this remained true for a majority of immigrants during the rest of the twentieth century. But, beginning with some of the distinguished refugees who fled from Hitler's Europe, a growing minority of immigrants came with educational credentials that surpassed those of most American natives. The so-called brain drain intensified during the latter decades of the century, as engineers and computer scientists were attracted to the various Silicon Valleys of America. At the other end of the spectrum, even larger numbers of immigrants came not to build America but to serve it. The service sector and agriculture, not the

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shrinking manufacturing sector, were the major employers of immigrant labor, legal and illegal. California farms, Arkansas chicken processors, fast foodshops, and hotels and motels everywhere were among the largest employers.

Immigration policy since World War II. The shifts in American immigration policy that made the renewal of large-scale immigration possible are often attributed solely to the IMMIGRATION ACT OF 1965. As the foregoing suggests, this is a serious error. Between the 1943 repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act and century's end, twenty-eight new substantive public laws revamped immigration and naturalization. Only a handful of the most significant can be noted here. Beginning with the hotly contested Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950—which brought some 400,000 European refugees, mostly gentiles, to the United States—a series of acts made taking refugees a part of the American consensus. By the end of the Eisenhower administration, the Fair Share Refugee Act symbolized the changed perception of American responsibility. Particularly noteworthy was the Carter administration's Refugee Act of 1980, which for the first time put the right to claim asylum into American law.

Two general statutes, the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act and the 1965 Immigration Act, transformed American immigration policy. While the most obvious innovation of the 1952 act was the ending of statutory racism in naturalization and immigration, it also eliminated overt gender bias in immigration. It seemed to continue the quota system much as it was enacted in 1924 but, because of other changes in the law, quota immigrants were only a minor fraction of legal immigration. Although the Japanese quota between 1953 and 1960 was only 185 a year—one-sixth of one percent of the Japanese population in the continental United States in 1920—a total of 46,250 Japanese legally immigrated in those seven years, almost all of them nonquota immigrants who were family members of U.S. citizens. European refugees, most of whom came from nations—or former nations—with tiny quotas were accounted for by "mortgaging quotas," mortgages that were never paid. When the quota system was abolished in 1965 the Latvian annual quota of 286, to give an extreme example, had been mortgaged to the year 2274.

The 1965 act ended national quotas and substituted putative hemispheric caps that seemed to limit immigration to less than half a million a year. At the same time, it so expanded family-based immigration and other non-quota immigration that the gross number of immigrants continued to rise steadily. By the late 1970s there was increasing concern in the media and in Congress about illegal immigration. After years of acrimonious debate, Congress passed a compromise measure, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). "Immigration Reform" had become a code phrase for reducing immigration. IRCA was widely hailed as a way to "fix" what was commonly called a "broken" immigration system, but the proposed fix exacerbated many of the problems thatPage 229  |  Top of Article it was supposed to cure. The centerpiece of the bill was an "amnesty" supposed to legalize perhaps 3.1 million persons who had been illegally present in the United States since 1982. But congress set aside 350,000 "amnesty places" for "special agricultural workers" who need only have done 90 days of agricultural labor and lived in the United States since 1 May 1985. Subsequent Congresses increased the share for these agricultural workers significantly. Of the 2.68 million persons actually legalized under IRCA by the end of 1998 almost 1.25 million, some 47 percent, were "special agricultural workers" of one kind or another.

In the final analysis the amnesty provisions of IRCA not only increased significantly the number of legal immigrants in the United States, but also created a well-publicized precedent for future liberalizations, which would be impossible for Congress to resist. The legalization did not contribute to the number of immigrants present, but each person legalized could become, in time, a naturalized American citizen, some of whose relatives would be eligible for privileged admission status. A growing awareness of the failure of IRCA to achieve its goals—plus the conservative mood epitomized by the so-called Gingrich revolution resulting from the Republican sweep of the 1994 congressional elections—produced a spate of measures passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton. These measures "got tough" with legal immigrants by denying them all kinds of benefits—usually described as "welfare." Also, a number of statutes were designed to bolster the border patrol and, as the phrase went, "regain control of our borders." These measures had only transitory effects on stemming immigration, whether legal or illegal, but did, many authorities believe, discourage many persons illegally working in the United States from going back to Mexico, for fear of being unable to return.

At the same time, California voters overwhelmingly adopted the patently unconstitutional Proposition 187, which made illegal aliens ineligible for public social services including public school education, and required all state officials to report anyone suspected of being an illegal alien to the INS. Not surprisingly, the passage of Proposition 187—whose enforcement was immediately blocked by the courts—and a growing perception that much of the national legislation was unfair, produced some unintended consequences. Hispanic citizens mobilized to register and vote in increasing numbers, both the Republican Congress and the Democratic Clinton administration modified some of the anti-immigrant legislation and after California Democrats swept the 1998 elections the anti-immigrant consensus, which had seemed so strong just four years previously, disappeared. The 2000 presidential campaign saw both parties actively courting Hispanic voters. The early months of the administration of George W. Bush continued the positive attitude toward immigration that he had evinced as governor of Texas between 1995 and 2000—his White House Web site was available in Spanish—and a second, major amnesty program seemed all but inevitable. However, the terrorist destruction of New York City's World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 and the economic recession that had begun six months earlier put at least a temporary damper on such plans. Most students of American immigration expected that the same forces that had created the post–Great Depression boom in immigration—an expanding economy and an aging population—would, in the long run, create conditions in which large-scale immigration would continue.


Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. An account of the varieties of the slave experience.

Bukowczyk, John J. And My Children Did Not Know Me. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. A brief history of Polish immigration.

Butler, Jon. Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. A striking analysis of the acculturation process.

Curtin, Philip D. The African Slave Trade: A Census. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. A pioneering survey.

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. 2d ed. New York: Harper Collins, 2002. An analytic narrative text.

Daniels, Roger, and Otis Graham. Debating American Immigration, 1882–Present. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. Dual approaches to twentieth-century immigration.

Diner, Hasia R. Erin's Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975. A gendered analysis.

Dolan, Jay P. The Immigrant Church: New York's Irish and German Catholics, 1815–1865. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975. An analysis of the civic functions of the Roman Catholic Church.

Garcia, Maria Cristina. Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959–1994. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. A discriminating account of the Cuban American community.

Goodfriend, Joyce. Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664–1730. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992. An analysis of the most polyglot American colony.

Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925. 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1988. The classic account of American Nativism.

Kitano, Harry H. L., and Roger Daniels. Asian Americans: Emerging Minorities. 3d ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2001. A survey of most Asian American ethnic groups.

Miller, Kerby A. Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. The standard account.

Morgan, Edmund S. The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. Edited by Oscar Handlin. Boston: Little, Brown, 1958. An accessible biography of a seventeenth-century immigrant leader.

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Reimers, David M. Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America. 2d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. The standard account of the structural change in American immigration in the post–World War II decades.

Sanchez, George J. Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. The formative years of this community.

Wokeck, Marianne S. Trade in Strangers: The Beginnings of Mass Migration to North America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. An account of the transportation of German immigrants before the American Revolution.

Yung, Judy. Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. A gendered analysis.

Roger Daniels

See also Chinese Exclusion Act ; McCarran-Walter Act ; Proposition 187 ; Refugee Act of 1980 ; Refugees ; and vol. 9: Maya in Exile: Guatemalans in Florida.


Immigration and Nationality Act, 1952

  1. Highly skilled immigrants whose services are urgently needed in the United States and the spouses and children of such immigrants: 50%.
  2. Parents of U.S. citizens over age twenty-one and unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens: 30%.
  3. Spouses and unmarried children of permanent resident aliens: 20%.
  4. Brothers, sisters, and married children of U.S. citizens and accompanying spouses and children: 50% of numbers not required for 1 through 3.
  5. Nonpreference: applicants not entitled to any of the above: 50% of the numbers not required for 1 through 3 plus any not required for 4.

Immigration Act of 1965

Exempt from preference requirements and numerical caps: spouses, unmarried minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens.

  1. Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens: 20%.
  2. Spouses and unmarried adult children of permanent resident aliens: 20%.
  3. Members of the professions and scientists and artists of exceptional ability: 10% (requires certification from U.S. Department of Labor).
  4. Married children of U.S. citizens: 10%.
  5. Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over age twenty-one: 24%.
  6. Skilled and unskilled workers in occupations for which labor is in short supply in the U.S.: 10% (requires certification from U.S. Department of Labor).
  7. Refugees from communist or communist dominated countries or from the Middle East: 6%.
  8. Nonpreference: applicants not entitled to any of the above. (Since there have been more preference applicants than can be accommodated, this category has never been used. Congress eventually adopted the so-called lottery provision to provide for such persons.)
Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition) 
Daniels, Roger. "Immigration." Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 4, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, pp. 219-230. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 17 Feb. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3401801989

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  • Africa
    • immigration from,
      • 4: 221
  • Agricultural workers
    • immigrant,
      • illegal,
        • 4: 229
  • Anti-Catholicism,
    • and Irish Americans,
  • Bush, George W.
    • immigration regulation under,
      • 4: 229
  • Chinese immigrants in,
    • Proposition 187,
      • 4: 229
  • Catholicism,
  • China
    • immigration from,
  • Chinese Exclusion Act (1882),
    • repeal of,
      • 4: 227
  • Cities
    • Irish Americans in,
      • 4: 223
  • Clinton, William Jefferson (Bill)
    • immigration regulation under,
      • 4: 229
  • Colonial era
    • immigration in,
      • 4: 220–222
  • Eastern Europe
    • immigration from,
  • Ellis Island,
  • Franklin, Benjamin
    • on immigrants,
      • 4: 221
  • French Canadians
    • immigration to New England,
      • 4: 224
  • German Americans,
    • immigration patterns of,
      • 4: 221
      • 4: 223
  • Germany
    • immigration from,
      • 4: 221
      • 4: 223
      • 4: 226
    • Nazi
      • refugees from,
        • 4: 226–227
  • Great Britain
    • immigrants from,
      • 4: 220–221
  • Hispanic Americans,
    • in California
      • Proposition 187 and,
  • Holocaust
    • refugees from,
      • 4: 226–227
  • Immigration,
    • 4: 219–230
    • in 17th century,
      • 4: 220–222
    • in 18th century,
      • 4: 220–222
    • in 19th century,
      • 4: 221
      • 4: 222
      • 4: 222–225
      • 4: 225
    • in 20th century,
      • 4: 220
      • 4: 224–229
      • 4: 225
      • 4: 227
      • 4: 228
      • 5: 5
    • in 21st century,
      • 4: 220
    • from Africa,
      • 4: 221
    • from Eastern Europe,
    • of French Canadians,
      • 4: 224
    • from Germany,
    • from Great Britain,
      • 4: 220–221
    • illegal,
      • 4: 228–229
    • industrialization and,
    • from Ireland,
    • from Italy,
    • of Jews,
    • legislation on,
    • to Maryland,
      • 4: 220
    • to Massachusetts,
    • from Mexico,
    • to New England,
      • 4: 220–221
    • to Pennsylvania,
      • 4: 221
    • from Poland,
    • rates of,
      • 4: 220
      • 4: 222
      • 4: 222
    • restrictions on,
      • for China,
      • repeal of,
      • after World War I,
        • 4: 226
      • during World War II,
        • 4: 226–227
    • from Scandinavia,
    • to South,
    • to South Carolina,
    • to Virginia,
      • 4: 220
    • during World War I,
      • 4: 226
    • during World War II,
      • 4: 226–227
    • after World War II,
  • Immigration Act (Hart-Cellar Act) (1965),
    • provisions of,
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) (1986),
    • 4: 228–229
  • Industrialization
    • and immigration,
      • 4: 223–226
  • Ireland
  • Irish Americans,
  • Italian Americans,
  • Italy
  • Jew(s),
  • McCarran-Walter Act (1952),
    • problems with,
    • provisions of,
      • 4: 230
  • Maryland,
    • immigration to,
      • 4: 220
  • Massachusetts,
  • Mexico
    • immigration from,
  • Netherlands
    • immigration from,
  • New England,
    • immigration to,
      • 4: 220–221
  • Pennsylvania,
    • immigration to,
      • 4: 221
  • Polish Americans,
  • Proposition 187,
  • Protestantism,
    • among Irish Americans,
  • Refugee(s)
    • Jewish,
      • 4: 226–227
    • from Nazi Germany,
      • 4: 226–227
  • Roosevelt, Franklin Delano
    • immigration under,
      • 4: 226–227
  • Scandinavian Americans,
    • immigration patterns of,
  • South, the,
  • South Carolina,
    • immigration to,
      • 4: 220
  • Virginia,
    • immigration to,
      • 4: 220
  • Women
  • World War I,
    • immigration during,
      • 4: 226
  • World War II,
    • immigration during,
      • 4: 226–227