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U.S. Immigration Since 1965 - Impact, Results and Summary

U.S. Immigration Since 1965 - Impact, Results and Summary

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, abolished an earlier quota system based on national origin and established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled labor to the United States. Over the next four decades, the policies put into effect in 1965 would greatly change the demographic makeup of the American population, as immigrants entering the United States under the new legislation came increasingly from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as opposed to Europe.

Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965

By the early 1960s, calls to reform U.S. immigration policy had mounted, thanks in no small part to the growing strength of the civil rights movement. At the time, immigration was based on the national-origins quota system in place since the 1920s, under which each nationality was assigned a quota based on its representation in past U.S. census figures. The civil rights movement’s focus on equal treatment regardless of race or nationality led many to view the quota system as backward and discriminatory. In particular, Greeks, Poles, Portuguese and Italians–of whom increasing numbers were seeking to enter the U.S.–claimed that the quota system discriminated against them in favor of Northern Europeans. President John F. Kennedy even took up the immigration reform cause, giving a speech in June 1963 calling the quota system “intolerable.”

After Kennedy’s assassination that November, Congress began debating and would eventually pass the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, co-sponsored by Representative Emanuel Celler of New York and Senator Philip Hart of Michigan and heavily supported by the late president’s brother, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. During Congressional debates, a number of experts testified that little would effectively change under the reformed legislation, and it was seen more as a matter of principle to have a more open policy. Indeed, on signing the act into law in October 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that the act “is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions….It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives or add importantly to either our wealth or our power.”

Immediate Impact

In reality (and with the benefit of hindsight), the bill signed in 1965 marked a dramatic break with past immigration policy, and would have an immediate and lasting impact. In place of the national-origins quota system, the act provided for preferences to be made according to categories, such as relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, those with skills deemed useful to the United States or refugees of violence or unrest. Though it abolished quotas per se, the system did place caps on per-country and total immigration, as well as caps on each category. As in the past, family reunification was a major goal, and the new immigration policy would increasingly allow entire families to uproot themselves from other countries and reestablish their lives in the U.S.

In the first five years after the bill’s passage, immigration to the U.S. from Asian countries–especially those fleeing war-torn Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia)–would more than quadruple. (Under past immigration policies, Asian immigrants had been effectively barred from entry.) Other Cold War-era conflicts during the 1960s and 1970s saw millions of people fleeing poverty or the hardships of communist regimes in Cuba, Eastern Europe and elsewhere to seek their fortune on American shores. All told, in the three decades following passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, more than 18 million legal immigrants entered the United States, more than three times the number admitted over the preceding 30 years.

By the end of the 20th century, the policies put into effect by the Immigration Act of 1965 had greatly changed the face of the American population. Whereas in the 1950s, more than half of all immigrants were Europeans and just 6 percent were Asians, by the 1990s only 16 percent were Europeans and 31 percent were of Asian descent, while the percentages of Latino and African immigrants had also jumped significantly. Between 1965 and 2000, the highest number of immigrants (4.3 million) to the U.S. came from Mexico, in addition to some 1.4 million from the Philippines. Korea, the Dominican Republic, India, Cuba and Vietnam were also leading sources of immigrants, each sending between 700,000 and 800,000 over this period.

Continuing Source of Debate

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, illegal immigration was a constant source of political debate, as immigrants continue to pour into the United States, mostly by land routes through Canada and Mexico. The Immigration Reform Act in 1986 attempted to address the issue by providing better enforcement of immigration policies and creating more possibilities to seek legal immigration. The act included two amnesty programs for unauthorized aliens, and collectively granted amnesty to more than 3 million illegal aliens. Another piece of immigration legislation, the 1990 Immigration Act, modified and expanded the 1965 act, increasing the total level of immigration to 700,000. The law also provided for the admission of immigrants from “underrepresented” countries to increase the diversity of the immigrant flow.

The economic recession that hit the country in the early 1990s was accompanied by a resurgence of anti-immigrant feeling, including among lower-income Americans competing for jobs with immigrants willing to work for lower wages. In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which addressed border enforcement and the use of social programs by immigrants.

Immigration in the 21st Century

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which took over many immigration service and enforcement functions formerly performed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). With some modifications, the policies put into place by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 are the same ones governing U.S. immigration in the early 21st century. Non-citizens currently enter the United States lawfully in one of two ways, either by receiving either temporary (non-immigrant) admission or permanent (immigrant) admission. A member of the latter category is classified as a lawful permanent resident, and receives a green card granting them eligibility to work in the United States and to eventually apply for citizenship.

There could be perhaps no greater reflection of the impact of immigration than the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and an American mother (from Kansas), as the nation’s first African-American president. Eighty-five percent white in 1965, the nation’s population was one-third minority in 2009 and is on track for a nonwhite majority by 2042.

Chapter 2: Immigration’s Impact on Past and Future U.S. Population Change

Foreign-born Americans and their descendants have been the main driver of U.S. population growth, as well as of national racial and ethnic change, since passage of the 1965 law that rewrote national immigration policy. They also will be the central force in U.S. population growth and change over the next 50 years.

According to new Pew Research Center projections, immigrants will make up a record 18% of the U.S. population in 2065, compared with 14% today and 5% in 1965. Immigrants and their children will represent 36% of the U.S. population in 2065, which equals or surpasses the peak levels last seen around the turn of the 20th century. That share will represent a doubling since 1965 (18%) and a notable rise from today’s 26%.

The arrival of new immigrants and the births of their children and grandchildren account for 55% of the U.S. population increase from 193 million in 1965 to 324 million today. The new Pew Research Center projections also show that the nation is projected to grow to 441 million in 2065 and that 88% of the increase is linked to future immigrants and their descendants.

Immigration has had only a modest impact on the nation’s age structure, but a striking one on its racial and ethnic makeup. 8 Without immigration since 1965, the U.S. today would have a median age of 41, not 38. The nation would be 75% white instead of 62%. Hispanics would be 8% of the population, not 18%. And Asians would be less than 1% of Americans, instead of 6%.

Immigration’s Contribution to U.S. Population Size and Growth

The nation’s population grew by 131 million people from 1965 to 2015, and 72 million of them are linked to immigration—that is, they are immigrants who arrived during this period or they are their children or grandchildren.

If no immigrants had entered the country after 1965, when the U.S. population numbered 193 million, the nation’s population still would have grown—to 252 million people by 2015, rather than 324 million. The population would have grown by less than half as much as it actually did (30% vs. 67% growth).

Over the next five decades, the U.S. immigrant population of 45 million is projected to grow to a record 78 million. 9 The growth rate of 74% will be more than double that for the U.S.-born population (30%).

Foreign-born U.S. residents will make up 18% of the population by 2065, higher than the previous record share of nearly 15% during the late 19th- and early 20th-century wave of immigration. The U.S.-born children of immigrants—the second generation—will more than double in number by 2065, from 38 million to 81 million, and will become 18% of the total population.

Since 1965, when the U.S. had 9.6 million immigrants, the total foreign-born population has more than quadrupled. The growth rate rose for each 10-year period from 1965 to 1995, peaking at 56% growth from 1985 to 1995. The volume of immigration grew from 1995 to 2005, though the growth rate of the foreign born decreased slightly (49%). From 2005 to 2015, the growth rate of the foreign born declined substantially, to 17%, largely because of a sharp drop in unauthorized immigration, especially from Mexico (Passel, Cohn and Gonzalez-Barrera, 2012).

Projection Methods

The new Pew Research projections are calculated based on immigration rates, birth rates and death rates that are derived from past trends and assumptions about future patterns. Among the assumptions are that the current slowdown in immigration will last through the decade, but that growth will pick up somewhat after that. Fertility rates are not projected to rise, but rates will vary by group. Lifespans are projected to improve modestly.

These projections employ today’s racial categories. It should be noted that race and ethnicity are fluid concepts that can change through social consensus, personal self-identification or other means (Liebler et al., 2014 Pew Research Center, 2015b Wang, 2015). For more details on assumptions and racial categories, see Appendix A: Methodology.

The immigrant population is expected to rise within a range of about 9% to 16% each decade from 2015 to 2065. By comparison, the overall U.S. population is projected to grow by 5% to 8% each decade.

Immigrants contribute to population growth because of both their own numbers and their above-average fertility. Most of those who immigrate are working-age adults, so immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born residents to be in their child-bearing years. They also have higher age-adjusted birth rates than people born in the U.S. (Livingston and Cohn, 2012).

Immigrant Generations

Immigrants made up only 5% of the U.S. population in 1965, compared with 14% today. The second generation, the children of immigrants, represent about the same share of the population today (12%) as in 1965 (13%). However, as shown below, today’s children of immigrants are considerably younger than their counterparts in 1965, and they are less likely to be white.

The second generation, today representing 38 million children of immigrants, is projected to be a major force driving future population growth. The foreign-born population has grown more rapidly than the second generation over the past five decades, but the second generation is projected to grow at a faster pace over the next five decades. The number of second-generation Americans is projected to more than double by 2065, to 81 million, when they will slightly outnumber the 78 million foreign-born Americans.

The third-and-higher generations—those born in the U.S. to U.S.-born parents—will grow more slowly, by 17% over the next five decades. This group now makes up about three-quarters (74%) of the U.S. population, but it will decline to about two-thirds (64%) in 2065.

Past Racial and Hispanic Change

Immigration is the primary reason behind the striking growth in the nation’s Hispanic and Asian populations since passage of the 1965 immigration law that ended a visa system favoring Europe over other regions of the world. Immigrants and their descendants account for most growth in the Hispanic population (76%) and virtually all growth in the Asian population (98%) from 1965 to 2015.

Five decades ago, the U.S. was a mainly (84%) white nation with an 11% black minority. Hispanics of all races made up 4% of the population, and other races made up the remaining 1%. All these groups grew in the ensuing 50 years, especially Hispanics, whose numbers grew sevenfold, and Asians, whose numbers rose more than thirteenfold.

The Hispanic share of the population more than quadrupled from 1965 to 2015, to 18%, and the Asian share more than quintupled, to 6%. The white share declined (to 62% in 2015), and the black share changed little (to 12% in 2015).

The Hispanic population, 8 million in 1965, is nearly 57 million in 2015. The Asian population, 1.3 million in 1965, grew to 18 million in 2015.

The white and black populations did not grow as sharply, and less than a third of growth for each race (29%) can be linked to immigration. The 1965 white population of nearly 162 million grew to 200 million in 2015. The black population, 21 million in 1965, increased to 40 million in 2015.

Looking at immigrants’ total contribution to population growth, by racial and ethnic group, Hispanics and their descendants can be linked to 28% of the overall U.S. increase over the past five decades. Asian immigrants and their descendants contributed 13% of growth. White immigrants and their descendants accounted for 8%, and black immigrants and their descendants are linked to 4% of overall growth over the past five decades. An additional 45% of growth was not linked to immigration, but to births to people living in the U.S. in 1965 and their descendants.

Projected Future Racial and Hispanic Change

Over the next five decades, the majority of U.S. population growth is projected to be linked to new Asian immigration (35%) and new Hispanic immigration (25%). An additional 18% will be due to new white immigrants and their descendants, and 8% to black immigrants and their descendants. 10 Only about 12% of projected growth is attributable to the population already in the country in 2015 and its descendants.

Differing growth rates of the nation’s racial and ethnic groups will reshape the U.S. demographic profile. By 2055, the United States will be a nation without a majority racial or ethnic group. The Hispanic and Asian populations will continue to grow more rapidly than whites and blacks. The white population, now 62% of the total, will decline to less than 50% sometime between 2050 and 2055.

In 2065, according to Pew Research projections, whites will make up 46% of the population and Hispanics 24%. Asians will be 14% of the total after 2060, they are projected to surpass blacks, who will be 13% of the U.S. population.

Nearly all (97%) of the growth in the nation’s Asian population over the next five decades will be due to new immigrants, their children and grandchildren. Most growth will be due to immigration for Hispanics (57%) and blacks (61%). The white population, projected to rise by 1% from 2015 to 2065, would decline by 9% without new immigrants and their descendants.

Race and Ethnicity Among Immigrants

Among immigrants, the white share of the foreign-born population will remain at a historic low over the next five decades. Based on Pew Research Center assumptions about immigration, fertility and mortality rates, Asians are projected to surpass Hispanics as the largest single group among the foreign-born population, beginning in 2055.

In 1965, most immigrants (80%) were white, but immigration over the subsequent five decades was dominated by Hispanics and Asians. In 2015, only 18% of immigrant population was white in 2065, 20% are projected to be white. The Hispanic share of immigrants, now 47%, will decline to 31% as a growing share of Hispanic growth is fed by births in the U.S. and not new immigration. Asians, who surpassed Hispanics among new immigrants by 2011, are projected to rise to 38% of the immigrant population in 2065 from today’s 26%. 11

Asians will be a growing share of the second generation (26% in 2065), but Hispanics will remain the largest single group in the second generation (40%). In 2065, Hispanics will nearly triple their representation in the third-and-higher generation (18% from today’s 8%), but Asians will remain a small share (3%) of this group.

The combined share of immigrants and children of immigrants—sometimes called “immigrant stock”—varies widely among the nation’s major race and ethnic groups. The white and black shares are expected to rise over the next five decades, while the Hispanic and Asian shares will decline somewhat.

In 1965, nearly one-in-five whites (18%) were immigrants or the children of immigrants, which declined to 10% in 2015 but will rebound to 16% in 2065. Among blacks, only 1% were immigrants or the children of immigrants in 1965, which rose to 15% in 2015 and will go up to 27% in 2065. Among Hispanics, 38% were first or second generation in 1965, compared with 68% today and just over half (53%) in 2065, according to projections. Among Asians, 69% were first or second generation in 1965, 93% are today and 84% are projected to be in 2065.

Today, Asians are the only major racial or ethnic group whose numbers are rising mainly because of immigration. Although immigration contributes to growth of the U.S. Hispanic population, births in the U.S. to Hispanic women are a more important contributor. Births overtook immigration as the main driver of Latino population growth after 2000 (Krogstad and Lopez, 2014).

Nearly two-thirds of the Asian population (64%) is foreign born, compared with 37% of U.S. Hispanics. About a quarter (23%) of the Hispanic population will be foreign born in 2065, and barely half (49%) of the Asian population will be immigrants.

Due to a gradual increase in black immigration, 13% of blacks will be foreign born, compared with 9% today. The white population will have only an 8% share of immigrants, compared with 4% today.

Median Age

In 1965, immigration rates had been low for several decades, so both immigrants and their U.S.-born children were considerably older than the U.S. population overall. The contrast is striking in terms of median age—the age at which half the population is older and half younger. For the U.S. population overall, in 1965, the year after the end of the post-World War II baby boom, the median age was 28.

The median age for immigrants was 56. The median age for the second generation, whose parents mainly came during the early 20th-century wave of immigration, was 45.

By 2015, the U.S. population was older, with a median age of 38, mainly because of the aging of the large Baby Boom generation. Had there been no immigration after 1965, the population would have been slightly older, with a median age of nearly 41. Today’s immigrant population is substantially younger than in 1965, with a median age of nearly 45.

The most striking change, though, is in the second generation. The children of immigrants today have a median age of 19, so they are about a quarter century younger than their counterparts in 1965 and are substantially younger than the overall population.

Types of Immigrants

There are many different names and categories given to someone moving from one country to live in another. There are generally three types of migrants in the U.S.: immigrants, refugees, and asylees.


Immigrants are people who have decided to move from one country to live and work in another. Immigrants are generally people who are seeking a new life and opportunities elsewhere, but are not under the same stressors as a refugee or asylee.

They generally make their way to the U.S., enter legally, and gain citizenship through a variety of methods. These migrants become naturalized citizens, and are given the same rights as all other U.S.citizens. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 45 million immigrants in the U.S., 77% of which are in the country legally.  

Those that choose to cross into the U.S. and not use the system are not documented, and are called undocumented immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security estimates there were close to 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States in 2018.  


A refugee is someone who has left their country of birth or citizenship and cannot return for fear of persecution based on their religion, race, nationality, opinions, or political memberships.  

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determines whether an immigrant has “suffered past persecution or has a well-founded fear of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion in their home country.”  

Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers, or "asylees," are refugees who are already in the United States or at a port of entry and meet the criteria to be considered a refugee. If they have a “credible fear” of persecution or torture in their home country, they can apply for asylum to prevent deportation.  

If approved for asylum, a refugee can stay in the United States, receive authorization to work, and apply for a Social Security card. They can apply for Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance and petition to bring family members, who are fearing persecution, to the U.S.

Fifty Years On, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Continues to Reshape the United States

Muzaffar Chisti provided opening remarks at a symposium held by MPI on Capitol Hill to commemorate the 50 th anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The transcript and video of the event are available online.

October 2015 marks the 50 th anniversary of the seminal Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Signed into law at the foot of the Statue of Liberty by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the act ushered in far-reaching changes that continue to undergird the current immigration system, and set in motion powerful demographic forces that are still shaping the United States today and will in the decades ahead.

The law, known as the Hart-Celler Act for its congressional sponsors, literally changed the face of America. It ended an immigration-admissions policy based on race and ethnicity, and gave rise to large-scale immigration, both legal and unauthorized. While the anniversary has provided an opportunity to reflect on the law’s historic significance, it also reminds us that the ’65 Act holds important lessons for policymaking today.

The Significance of the 1965 Act, Then and Now

The historic significance of the 1965 law was to repeal national-origins quotas, in place since the 1920s, which had ensured that immigration to the United States was primarily reserved for European immigrants. The 1921 national-origins quota law was enacted in a special congressional session after President Wilson’s pocket veto. Along with earlier and other contemporary statutory bars to immigration from Asian countries, the quotas were proposed at a time when eugenics theories were widely accepted. The quota for each country was set at 2 percent of the foreign-born population of that nationality as enumerated in the 1890 census. The formula was designed to favor Western and Northern European countries and drastically limit admission of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe. In major revisions to U.S. immigration law in 1952, the national-origins system was retained, despite a strong veto message by President Truman.

Building on a campaign promise by President Kennedy, and with a strong push by President Johnson amid the enactment of other major civil-rights legislation, the 1965 law abolished the national-origins quota system. It was replaced with a preference system based on immigrants’ family relationships with U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and, to a lesser degree, their skills. The law placed an annual cap of 170,000 visas for immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, with no single country allowed more than 20,000 visas, and for the first time established a cap of 120,000 visas for immigrants from the Western Hemisphere. Three-fourths of admissions were reserved for those arriving in family categories. Immediate relatives (spouses, minor children, and parents of adult U.S. citizens) were exempt from the caps 24 percent of family visas were assigned to siblings of U.S. citizens. In 1976, the 20,000 per county limit was applied to the Western Hemisphere. And in 1978, a worldwide immigrant visa quota was set at 290,000.

Though ratified half a century ago, the Hart-Celler framework still defines today’s legal immigration system. Under current policy, there are five family-based admissions categories, ranked in preference based on the family relationship, and capped at 480,000 visas (again, exempting immediate relatives of U.S. citizens), and five employment-based categories capped at 140,000 visas. Smaller numbers are admitted through refugee protection channels and the Diversity Visa Lottery—a program designed to bring immigrants from countries that are underrepresented in U.S. immigration streams, partly as a consequence of the 1965 Act. Though Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990 to admit a greater share of highly skilled and educated immigrants through employment channels, family-based immigrants continue to comprise two-thirds of legal immigration, while about 15 percent of immigrants become permanent residents through their employers.

Unintended Consequences

Much of the sweeping impact of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act was the result of unintended consequences. "The bill that we sign today is not a revolutionary bill," President Johnson said during the signing ceremony. “It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives, or really add importantly to either our wealth or our power.” Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), the bill’s floor manager, stated: "It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society." Even advocacy groups who had favored the national-origins quotas became supporters, predicting little change to the profile of immigration streams.

Despite these predictions, the measure had a profound effect on the flow of immigrants to the United States, and in only a matter of years began to transform the U.S. demographic profile. The number of new lawful permanent residents (or green-card holders) rose from 297,000 in 1965 to an average of about 1 million each year since the mid-2000s (see Figure 1). Accordingly, the foreign-born population has risen from 9.6 million in 1965 to a record high of 45 million in 2015 as estimated by a new study from the Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project. Immigrants accounted for just 5 percent of the U.S. population in 1965 and now comprise 14 percent.

Figure 1. Annual Number of U.S. Legal Permanent Residents, Fiscal Years 1820-2013

Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI), “Legal Immigration to the United States, 1820-Present,” available online.

A second unintended consequence of the law stemmed largely from a political compromise clearly intended to have the opposite effect. The original bill provided a preference for immigrants with needed skills and education. But a group of influential congressmen (conservatives allied with the Democratic chairman of the House immigration subcommittee) won a last-minute concession to prioritize admission of immigrants with family members already in the United States, believing it would better preserve the country’s predominantly Anglo-Saxon, European base. In the following years, however, demand from Europeans to immigrate to the United States fell flat while interest from non-European countries—many emerging from the end of colonial rule—began to grow. New and well-educated immigrants from diverse countries in Asia and Latin America established themselves in the United States and became the foothold for subsequent immigration by their family networks.

Figure 2. U.S. Immigrant Population by World Region of Birth, 1960-2013

Source: MPI, “Regions of Birth for Immigrants in the United States, 1960-Present,” available online.

Compared to almost entirely European immigration under the national-origins system, flows since 1965 have been more than half Latin American and one-quarter Asian. The largest share of today’s immigrant population, about 11.6 million, is from Mexico. Together with India, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, El Salvador, Cuba, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala, these ten countries account for nearly 60 percent of the current immigrant population.

Figure 3. Top Ten Largest U.S. Immigrant Groups, 1960 and 2013

*China excludes both Hong Kong and Taiwan
Source: MPI, “Largest U.S. Immigrant Groups over Time, 1960-Present,” available online.

In turn, the law dramatically altered the racial and ethnic makeup of the United States. In 1965, whites of European descent comprised 84 percent of the U.S. population, while Hispanics accounted for 4 percent and Asians for less than 1 percent. Fifty years on, 62 percent of the U.S. population is white, 18 percent is Hispanic, and 6 percent is Asian. By 2065, just 46 percent of the U.S. population will be white, the Hispanic share will rise to 24 percent, Asians will comprise 14 percent—and the country will be home to 78 million foreign born, according to Pew projections.

The 1965 Act also inadvertently laid the foundation for the steep rise in illegal immigration since the 1970s. In a parallel development whose impact was not recognized at the time, Congress in 1964 terminated the Bracero program, which since 1942 had been used to recruit temporary agricultural workers from Mexico to fill World War II farm-labor shortages in the United States. In total, 4.6 million Mexican guestworkers were admitted, peaking at 445,000 in 1956. When the guestworker program ended, many former Bracero workers continued crossing the border to fill the same jobs, but now illegally. The combination of the end of the Bracero program and limits on legal immigration from the Western Hemisphere combined to fuel the rise of illegal immigration.

Implications for Today’s Debate

Introduced in January 1965 and signed into law on October 3, the Hart-Celler Act took only nine months to enact. Its swift passage through the 89 th Congress raises the question of why today’s political leaders have failed for more than a decade to pass substantive immigration legislation. First, passage of the law was truly bipartisan, despite Democratic control of the White House, Senate, and House. In the Senate, the bill was approved by a vote of 76 to 18, with support from 52 Democrats and 24 Republicans. The House passed the bill 320 to 70 202 Democrats and 117 Republicans supported it, while 60 Democrats and ten Republicans voted against it. Not only did the bill win support from the majorities of both parties in the House and Senate, in each more Democrats opposed the bill than Republicans.

Second, lawmakers approved the measure without significant floor debate—deferring to the expertise of the Judiciary committees and their immigration subcommittees to craft the proposal. Lastly, President Johnson focused his attention not on policy details or advancing the White House’s immigration agenda, but on the process of moving the bill forward through Congress. In today’s hostile political climate, congressional gridlock, and polarized, high-stakes immigration debate, lawmakers could learn from the process that led to the law’s swift passage.

The 1965 Act: A Success or Failure?

Opinions differ on whether the 1965 Act helped or harmed the country. The law’s proponents see it as a historic success and assert that the estimated 59 million immigrants who have come to the United States since its passage have made the country younger, infused it with diversity and talent, and generated prosperity and economic growth. Critics contend that high admission levels of diverse groups of immigrants have created more competition for low-skilled U.S. workers, and shattered the country’s cultural homogeneity.

Despite such misgivings, a recent major study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests that post-1965 Act immigrants and their children—estimated to comprise one in four people in the United States—are successfully integrating into U.S. society. The study finds that immigrant integration increases over time and successive generations achieve strong progress in key indicators including education, earnings, language proficiency, and occupational distribution. At the same time, immigrants and their descendants as a whole still lag behind the native-born population on these indicators.

How well post-1965 Act immigrants have integrated has varied substantially, depending on their legal status, social class, educational background, and the geographic area where they settle, the study also found. Profiles of diaspora groups (comprised of immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants) from countries that have dominated post-1965 immigration flows show that many have surpassed median U.S. educational attainment levels, household incomes, and workforce participation rates. The Indian diaspora, for example—numbering 3.8 million—is significantly higher educated, more likely to be employed, and has a higher household income compared to the U.S. population as a whole. The Filipino, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Egyptian, Kenyan, and Nigerian diasporas tell similar stories, while the diasporas of other countries, such as Ghana, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Colombia are generally on par with medians for the U.S. born on most indicators. Further, the educational levels of newly arrived immigrants have been consistently improving since the 1970s, according to the Pew Hispanic Trends study. In 2013, 41 percent of recently arrived immigrants were college graduates compared to 20 percent in 1970. In comparison, 30 percent of the native-born population had college degrees in 2013 vs. 11 percent in 1970.

While the 1965 law has empowered many diverse immigrants and their families to build new and prosperous lives in the United States, its unintended consequences have clearly hindered integration for others—particularly diaspora groups whose members are more likely to lack legal status. Mexican immigrants and their descendants (an estimated 34.8 million) are far more socioeconomically disadvantaged than other diaspora groups, and have below-average educational attainment and household incomes. The Salvadoran and Haitian diasporas have a similar profile.

At heart, the current U.S. immigration debate is an unresolved cultural conversation about the nation’s identity. As the congressional policymaking process remains stalled, many of the dynamics established by the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act—for better or for worse—are likely to persist. Until there are consequential changes to the immigration system, now a half-century old, the 1965 Act will continue to shape the changing face of America.

National Policy Beat in Brief

Border Apprehensions of Unaccompanied Children and Families on the Rise. The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 9,790 unaccompanied minors and families at the U.S.-Mexico border in August, a 52 percent increase from the same period last year. Of the total apprehended, 4,632 were unaccompanied children, while the remaining 5,158 were parents traveling with young children (officially referred to as “family units”). The monthly totals are the highest since a surge of children and families arrived at the border in summer 2014, resulting in approximately 69,000 unaccompanied child and 68,000 family apprehensions in fiscal year (FY) 2014. The White House called the August increase a “surprising uptick” and a “concern.”

Meanwhile, on September 18, the Obama administration appealed an August federal court ruling in Flores v. Lynch that ordered the immediate release of families from immigration detention. The ruling found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had breached a long-standing court settlement that requires immigrant children be held only in facilities licensed to care for children, and gave authorities until October 23 to comply.

    on the surge in child and family border apprehensions on the administration’s appeal of the court order to release immigrant families from detention

Obama Administration Increases Aid and Admissions for Syrian Refugees. On September 21, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that the United States would donate an additional $419 million in humanitarian and refugee aid to those affected by the four and a half year conflict in Syria. In total, the United States has donated more than $4.5 billion to Syria relief efforts since 2012. Furthermore, the White House increased the number of Syrian refugees to be resettled in the United States from 2,000 in FY 2015 to 10,000 in FY 2016, which began on October 1. The Obama administration also raised the worldwide refugee admissions ceiling from 70,000 in FY 2015 to 85,000 in FY 2016, and has said the quota will be increased to 100,000 in FY 2017. Many observers argue that although the proposed increases are significant compared to last year’s admissions, they do not meet the global demand for resettlement of refugees fleeing war in Syria and other countries in the Middle East.

    on the increase in Syrian humanitarian aid on the 10,000 Syrian refugees to be accepted by the United States on increasing the number of worldwide refugees accepted by the United States

Obama Administration Revises Proposed Changes to Visa Bulletin. On September 25, the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a reversal to the Visa Bulletin changes proposed earlier in the month. The monthly Visa Bulletin provides information on when statutorily limited visas are available to be issued to prospective immigrants based on their individual priority dates (the filing date of their approved immigrant visa petitions). The proposed changes were part of the president’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration, and would have allowed certain individuals in the immigrant-visa backlog to submit their permanent residence applications before their priority dates. In anticipation of these changes, it is estimated more than 20,000 immigrants had prepared their applications for filing, which would have enabled the primary applicants and derivative family members to obtain employment authorization and travel documents. The government since said the bulletin was “adjusted to better reflect a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process.” In response to the sudden reversal, a group of high-skilled immigrants filed a federal lawsuit in Seattle claiming damages that arose from expenses related to their legal fees or medical exams.

    for October 2015
  • New York Times article on immigrants affected by reversal to the Visa Bulletin

Cuban Arrivals Rise at Texas Ports of Entry. Between October 2014 and June 2015, approximately 18,520 Cubans arrived at ports of entry in South Texas seeking admission into the United States. If the trend held, the Texas border region would have seen an estimated 24,700 Cuban migrants arrive at land ports between Del Rio and Brownsville by the end of FY 2015, representing a 60 percent increase from FY 2014. The influx is presumed to be in response to a recent decision by Cuba and the United States to normalize diplomatic relations for the first time since 1959. The change has raised concerns among Cubans that their special treatment under United States immigration law could be terminated in the normalization process. The special status of Cubans dates back to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which allows Cubans arriving in the United States via land ports to be admitted and be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence after one year in the United States. No other country’s nationals are afforded similar treatment by U.S. law.

Some Immigrants with Mental Disabilities May Contest Removal under New Court Settlement. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and DHS on September 25 finalized a federal district court settlement allowing eligible immigrants with serious mental illnesses who were ordered deported to reopen their cases with the possibility of returning to the United States. The settlement applies to noncitizens with mental disabilities who were not given a legitimate competency determination and were deported after representing themselves without counsel in immigration court. Under a pair of court orders issued in 2013 and 2014, immigrants with serious mental disabilities facing deportation have a right to legal representation if they are determined not competent to represent themselves, and the government is required to provide such determinations. The settlement applies to noncitizens detained in Arizona, California, and Washington after November 21, 2011. Mental disabilities covered in the settlement include psychosis, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder.

    on the ACLU and DHS settlement
  • ACLU statement on settlement of the class action lawsuit

Obama Administration Launches Naturalization Initiative.On September 17, the White House launched a public awareness campaign to encourage eligible legal permanent residents (LPRs) to apply for U.S. citizenship. Of the 13.3 million LPRs in the United States, 8.8 million are eligible to naturalize, according to recent DHS estimates. During the campaign’s first week, a variety of businesses and nonprofits hosted more than 70 citizenship outreach events, while the federal government held 200 naturalization ceremonies for more than 36,000 new citizens across the United States. Additionally, USCIS will post online U.S. civics and history practice tests for the naturalization exam that permanent residents are required to pass to become citizens. USCIS will also begin allowing credit card payments of the $680 naturalization fee. The initiative is one component of a series of executive actions on immigration announced by President Obama in November 2014.

State and Local Policy Beat in Brief

North Carolina Legislature Passes E-Verify, Sanctuary Cities, and ID law.On September 29, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed the Protect North Carolina Workers Act. The bill prohibits use of identification issued by municipalities, counties, or diplomatic consuls to establish eligibility for state benefits. It also places a ban on “sanctuary city” policies allowing local governments to limit cooperation between state and local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the enforcement of immigration laws. The proposed bill also requires that state and local government agencies only hire contractors who use the E-Verify system to check their workers’ immigration statuses. Having passed both chambers of the state legislature, the bill has been sent for Governor Patrick McCrory’s signature. The governor has not indicated whether he will sign it into law.

Los Angeles County Unveils New PEP Policy.On September 22, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced a new policy outlining how his agency will cooperate with ICE. Under the guidelines, LA County will only comply with a detainer—a request from ICE to hold a person beyond their scheduled release for transfer into ICE custody—if it meets ICE’s detainer requirements and is not protected by the California Trust Act. The California Trust Act, enacted in 2013, bars law enforcement agencies in the state from honoring detainers, but does not protect those who have been convicted of serious crimes such as burglary, assault, sexual abuse, or felony DUI. ICE agents will also be allowed access to inmates in LA County jails being processed for release, as well as interview inmates who have committed serious crimes as defined by the Trust Act and have a high likelihood of being in the United States without authorization. The new policy is in response to a federal initiative called the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which allows ICE agents to match the fingerprints of inmates in local jails against DHS immigration databases to determine their immigration status. PEP replaced the controversial Secure Communities program in July.

U.S. Immigration Statistics 1960-2021

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4. Popular Fears of Too Much Immigration

Existing alongside the pride of having immigrant grandparents (or great-grandparents) in the ‘nation of immigrants,’ many Americans fear that the United States has more immigrants than the country can absorb and assimilate. There are widespread popular beliefs that immigrants take jobs that would otherwise go to native born Americans and that the wages of native born workers are depressed by the presence of immigrant workers. Beyond the economic argument, many Americans also think that the presence of immigrants, especially large numbers of immigrants from ‘third world’ countries, are a threat to American values, culture, and institutions (Bouvier 1992 Brimelow 1995 Huntington 2004). These sentiments have given rise to an anti-immigrant lobby that includes political leaders, TV and radio talk-show pundits, social movement organisations, including public interest organisations that publish reports and policy briefs, as well as unauthorised militia groups that patrol the U.S. Mexican border, such as the ‘Minutemen’.

Neither the presence of large numbers of immigrants nor the exaggerated claims about the negative impact of immigration are new phenomena. In 1751, Benjamin Franklin complained about the Germans in Pennsylvania and their reluctance to learn English (Archdeacon 1983: 20 Jones 1992: 39�). Based on a campaign of fear about the political dangers of unchecked immigration, primarily Irish Catholics, the ‘Know-Nothing’Party elected six governors, dominated several state legislatures, and sent a bloc of representatives to Congress in 1855. During World War I, Americans who wanted to retain their German-American identity were forced to be � percent Americans’ and to give up their language and culture (Higham 1988: Chap. 8).

In the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, Chinese and Japanese migrants who worked as railroad and agricultural labourers were targeted by nativist groups who feared that Asian immigrants would harm the economic status of native workers and contaminate the ‘racial purity’ of the nation (Hing 1993: 22). The passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the first major step toward a closed society. After the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, Japanese migrants became a new source of cheap labour on the West coast and Hawaii. Japanese immigration was targeted by the same groups that opposed Chinese immigrants.

Southern and Eastern European groups also faced an increasingly hostile context of reception as their numbers swelled at the turn of the twentieth century. A number of formal organisations sprang up among old line New England elites to campaign against the continued immigration of ‘undesirables’ from Europe (Higham 1988 Jones 1992: Chap. 9). After a long political struggle, Congress passed restrictive laws in the early 1920s that stopped almost all immigration except from Northwestern Europe.

Post-War Years

Immigration remained relatively low following World War II because the numerical limitations imposed by the 1920s national origins system remained in place. However, humanitarian crises spawned by the conflict and United States burgeoning international presence in the post-war world brought new challenges for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Providing Humanitarian Relief
Many INS programs in the 1940s and 1950s addressed individuals affected by conditions in postwar Europe. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and Refugee Relief Act of 1953 allowed for admission of many refugees displaced by the war and unable to come to the United States under regular immigration procedures. With the onset of the Cold War, the Hungarian Refugee Act of 1956, Refugee-Escapee Act of 1957, and Cuban Adjustment Program of the 1960s served the same purpose for “escapees” from communist countries. Other post-war INS programs facilitated family reunification. The War Brides Act of 1945 and the Fiancées Act of 1946 eased admission of the spouses and families of returning American soldiers.

The Bracero Program
The World War II temporary worker program continued after the war under a 1951 formal agreement between Mexico and the United States. Like its wartime predecessor the Mexican Agricultural Labor Program (“MALP”), commonly called the “Bracero Program,” matched seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico with approved American employers. Between 1951 and 1964, hundreds of thousands of braceros entered the country each year as non-immigrant laborers.

Enforcing Immigration Laws
By the mid-1950s, INS enforcement activities focused on two areas of national concern. Public alarm over illegal aliens resident and working in the United States caused the Service to strengthen border controls and launch targeted deportation programs including the controversial "Operation Wetback," a 1954 Mexican Border enforcement initiative. Additional worry over criminal aliens within the country prompted INS investigation and deportation of communists, subversives, and organized crime figures.

Reforming Immigration Policy
Congress re-codified and combined all previous immigration and naturalization law into the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952. The 1952 law removed all racial barriers to immigration and naturalization and granted the same preference to husbands as it did to wives of American citizens. However, the INA retained the national origins quotas.

In 1965 amendments to the 1952 immigration law Congress replaced the national origins system with a preference system designed to reunite immigrant families and attract skilled immigrants to the United States. This change to national policy responded to changes in the sources of immigration since 1924. By the mid-20th century, the majority of applicants for immigration visas came from Asia and Central and South America rather than Europe. The preference system continued to limit the number of immigration visas available each year, however, and Congress still responded to refugees with special legislation, as it did for Indochinese refugees in the 1970s. Not until the Refugee Act of 1980 did the United States have a general policy governing the admission of refugees.

20th century immigration policy

Immigration Act of 1924

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Congress continued to pass various laws related to immigration and naturalization, many of them restrictive, such as the Immigration Act of 1924. According to the United States Department of State Office of the Historian, "the Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota." The quota had originally been established on a temporary basis by the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 the Immigration Act of 1924 amended and made permanent this quota system. The act provided for the granting of immigration visas to 2 percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States, calculated as of the 1890 census. Immigrants from Asia were barred under this system. Quotas were not applied to immigrants from the Western Hemisphere. The Immigration Act of 1924 was also known as the Johnson-Reed Act. Δ] Ε]

Nationality Act of 1940

In 1940, Congress passed and Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Nationality Act of 1940 its stated purpose was to "revise and codify the nationality laws of the United States into a comprehensive nationality code." The law established the conditions necessary to meet for one to acquire U.S. citizenship through the nature of one's birth (known as birthright citizenship). Birthright citizenship was primarily granted to individuals born within the United States, or outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents. The law also outlined the process by which immigrants could acquire U.S. citizenship through naturalization and described classes of non-citizens who would be ineligible for naturalization. Ζ]

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

The Nationality Act of 1940 was supplanted by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Also known as the McCarran–Walter Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 modified the national origins quota system. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the prohibition on Asian immigration was rescinded and national origins quotas were set at one-sixth of 1 percent of each nationality's population the United States as of the 1920 census.

The law also codified and compiled existing laws from a variety of sources into a single text. Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 granted the President of the United States the following authority: Η] ⎖]

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. ΐ]
—Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, Section 212

Although the law has been amended several times since its passage, it remains the foundation of Title 8 of the United States Code, the canon of federal law relating to immigration policy. Η] ⎗]

Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965

Also known as the Hart-Celler Act, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 eliminated the national origins quota system. However, it also established a worldwide limit on immigration to the United States, a limit which has been adjusted but remains in place. As of August 2016, according to the American Immigration Council, this limit was set at 675,000 permanent immigrants. ⎘]

The law also established systems of family-based and employment-based preference categories for the issuance of visas to individuals seeking to come to the United States. The preference system is a method of distributing the limited number of visas awarded each year, with more visas available for the more highly preferred categories. Under the family-based preference system, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens were most preferred, followed by immediate relatives of lawful permanent residents, and then married adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens. Under the employment-based preference system, individuals with "extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics" were most preferred, followed by professionals and those with "exceptional ability in the sciences or the arts," skilled workers, various special classes of immigrants, and high-dollar investors. While these preference systems and their numerical limits were adjusted by subsequent laws, their fundamental structures remained in tact. For a list of the preference categories as of March 2017, click here. ⎙]

Refugee Act of 1980

The Refugee Act of 1980 amended the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act by standardizing the process for admitting refugees into the United States. The law established a definition for who may be considered a refugee and provided for an initial refugee admissions limit of 50,000. However, the law also authorized the President of the United States to exceed this limit for humanitarian purposes, following appropriate consultation with the Committees on the Judiciary of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. ⎚]

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was written based on the recommendations of a 1981 congressional commission for amending the immigration system and reducing illegal immigration. The law made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire individuals unauthorized to work in the United States and established a system for verifying the legal status of employees. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (broken into three separate agencies in 2003: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)) and the U.S. Border Patrol were provided increased funding for the purpose of enforcing immigration law. ⎛]

IRCA also created new, separate visa categories for temporary agricultural work (H-2A) and temporary nonagricultural work (H-2B). Finally, IRCA granted legal status to individuals residing in the United States without legal permission who met certain conditions ultimately, about 2.7 million individuals were granted legal status under the law. ⎜]

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act focused on enforcement of immigration law. The law authorized greater resources for border enforcement, such as the construction of new fencing near the San Diego, California, area, and an increase in the number of immigration officers dedicated to investigating visa overstays, violations of immigration law by employers, and human smuggling. ⎝]

The law introduced civil penalties for attempting to cross the border illegally. It also amended the process of removing individuals residing in the country without legal permission by prohibiting legal reentry for a certain period of time and introducing a process for expedited removal. The law also applied new restrictions to the asylum application process.


While the Americas remained firmly under the control of native peoples in the first decades of European settlement, conflict increased as colonization spread and Europeans placed greater demands upon the native populations, including expecting them to convert to Christianity (either Catholicism or Protestantism). Throughout the seventeenth century, the still-powerful native peoples and confederacies that retained control of the land waged war against the invading Europeans, achieving a degree of success in their effort to drive the newcomers from the continent.

At the same time, European goods had begun to change Indian life radically. In the 1500s, some of the earliest objects Europeans introduced to Indians were glass beads, copper kettles, and metal utensils. Native people often adapted these items for their own use. For example, some cut up copper kettles and refashioned the metal for other uses, including jewelry that conferred status on the wearer, who was seen as connected to the new European source of raw materials.

As European settlements grew throughout the 1600s, European goods flooded native communities. Soon native people were using these items for the same purposes as the Europeans. For example, many native inhabitants abandoned their animal-skin clothing in favor of European textiles. Similarly, clay cookware gave way to metal cooking implements, and Indians found that European flint and steel made starting fires much easier ([link]).

The abundance of European goods gave rise to new artistic objects. For example, iron awls made the creation of shell beads among the native people of the Eastern Woodlands much easier, and the result was an astonishing increase in the production of wampum , shell beads used in ceremonies and as jewelry and currency. Native peoples had always placed goods in the graves of their departed, and this practice escalated with the arrival of European goods. Archaeologists have found enormous caches of European trade goods in the graves of Indians on the East Coast.

Native weapons changed dramatically as well, creating an arms race among the peoples living in European colonization zones. Indians refashioned European brassware into arrow points and turned axes used for chopping wood into weapons. The most prized piece of European weaponry to obtain was a musket , or light, long-barreled European gun. In order to trade with Europeans for these, native peoples intensified their harvesting of beaver, commercializing their traditional practice.

The influx of European materials made warfare more lethal and changed traditional patterns of authority among tribes. Formerly weaker groups, if they had access to European metal and weapons, suddenly gained the upper hand against once-dominant groups. The Algonquian, for instance, traded with the French for muskets and gained power against their enemies, the Iroquois. Eventually, native peoples also used their new weapons against the European colonizers who had provided them.

Explore the complexity of Indian-European relationships in the series of primary source documents on the National Humanities Center site.

U.S. Immigration Since 1965 - Impact, Results and Summary - HISTORY


Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.” --Oscar Handlin

THE FIRST WAVE : 1607-1830

Total Immigrants: approximately 1.2 million

From the first Colonial settlements in Jamestown and Plymouth, America grew quickly from an estimated population of 250,000 in 1700 to an estimated 2.5 million in 1775, when the Revolution began, to a population of 9.6 million in the 1820 census.

The early immigrants were primarily Protestants from northwestern Europe, as can be seen from the ethnic breakdown of the U.S. population in the first census of 1790: English 49%, African 19%, Scots-Irish 8%, Scottish 7%, German 7%, Dutch 4%, French 3%, other 3%.

Due to a labor shortage in the colonies and the early republic, there were no restrictions or requirements for immigration. The first federal law requiring ships to keep records of immigration wasn’t passed until 1819. Thus, the first wave of immigrants were all “undocumented aliens.”

The symbolic Port of Entry for the first wave of immigrants was Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims landed in 1620. As later immigrant groups came to America, older English Americans would memorialize Plymouth Rock as the birthplace of America, thus confirming an Anglo-Saxon stamp on teh Americna character. In reality, of course,the early immigrants arrived all over the different ports up and down the East Coast.

Reasons for Immigration
The early immigrants came here for a variety of reasons:

  • Economic Opportunity: Europe offered little opportunity for most people to advance economically during this period of aristocratic control of wealth and power. Thus, many people came to America seeking a chance to better their fortunes. The largest single group in the early years were indentured servants, poor people, debtors, and petty criminals who could not pay for their passage but entered into a contract to work for a master for 4-7 years in return for passage. Indentured servants were half the workforce until 1750 but declined afterwards as economic conditions improved in England.
  • Slavery: As indentured servants completed their contracts, Southern plantation owners increasingly replaced them with African slaves brought over in the Triangle Trade. Although Africans were in Virginia as early as 1619, it was in the 18 th Century that the slave trade grew exponentially. An estimated 800,000 Africans were brought over to America as slaves by 1808 nearly all of those had arrived before 1780. One in five Americans were slaves at the time of the first census in 1790.
  • Political Freedom: Immigrants such as Thomas Paine wanted to come here because Americans had far more rights than the average European of this period, who still lived under the control of kings and aristocrats. Occasional bloody revolts such as the English Civil War of the 1640s, the French Revolution of the 1790s, and other wars such as the 30 Years’ War and the Napoleonic Wars, caused other refugees to flee to America.
  • Religious Freedom: During this period, most European governments had official state churches. Persecution of dissenters led some to come to America seeking freedom of worship, including the Puritans (“Pilgrims”), Friends (“Quakers”), Mennonites, French Huguenots, Spanish Jews, and English Catholics.

Except for the enslaved Africans, the first wave of immigrants generally had an easier time being accepted as American for several reasons:

  • Firstly, they tended to be relatively homogeneous (all the same), sharing a religion (Protestant Christianity) and race (white). As America was a British colony and the majority of both the population and incoming immigrants were British, there were few cultural conflicts.
  • Secondly, it was understood that immigrants who spoke other languages (German, French) must learn English and conform to Anglo-American cultural norms.
  • Thirdly, as the rapidly expanding country needed labor, immigrants posed little threat to American workers.
  • Finally, the rate of immigration over the first 200 years was steady but small: never more than 10,000 immigrants in one year, who quickly dispersed throughout the country.

Yet even this first wave met some resistance. In 1755, the Pennsylvania Assembly criticized recent German arrivals (the “Pennsylvania Dutch” or Deutsch) as “a great mixture of the refuse of their people.” The usually enlightened Benjamin Franklin claimed immigrants were “generally among the most stupid of their own nation.” Catholics, Jews, and free African-Americans found religious and racial prejudice common. In 1798, the first anti-immigrant laws were passed by the Federalist Party. The Naturalization Act increased the eligibility requirement for citizenship from 5 years residence to 14. The Alien Enemies Act gave the President the power to arrest or expel all aliens “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” When Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans took over, they let these laws expire.

THE SECOND WAVE: 1830s-1880s

Total Immigrants: 15.3 million.

As the population of the United States exploded from 13 million to 63 million between 1830 and 1890, a second wave of immigrants landed in America. The port of entry for the vast majority of these people was New York City. From 1855 on, arrivals were processed at Castle Garden, the first immigration center established by New York State.

Second-Wave immigrants were primarily Irish and German. Because they arrived in large numbers and differed from the existing Anglo-American society in religion and culture, they became the first immigrant groups to experience widespread hostility and organized opposition.

Until 1830, immigrants had never arrived in large numbers in the USA, averaging only 6,000 per year and totaling only about 1.5% of American society. Then, beginning in 1832, there was a sudden increase to 50,000 immigrants, with a peak year of 428,000 in 1854. Following a lull during the Civil War, immigration surged again in the late 19 th century, with 5.2 million arriving in the 1880s alone. By 1890, nearly 14% of Americans were foreign-born.

Reasons for Increased Immigration

  • Transportation Improvements: The development of clipper ships and railroads speeded travel and lowered the cost of the fare to America.
  • European strife: War, famine, revolution, and industrialization drove many Western Europeans from their homelands in search of a chance for something better in America.
  • The “American Dream”: The growing reputation of the USA as a safe haven for immigrants and a land of opportunity for those willing to work hard drew people like a magnet. In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was erected on an island in New York harbor, seemingly as a welcome to each new boatload of arriving immigrants. On her base was a poem by Emma Lazarus:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

The immigrants spurred economic growth in America by providing a steady supply of cheap labor and an increased demand for mass-produced consumer goods.

Where Second-Wave Immigrants Came From

  • Irish Catholics were the single largest ethnic group in the Second Wave. With Ireland under British rule, they long been denied self-government and persecuted for their religion. But the main spur to Irish immigration was neither political nor religious, but economic. The Potato Famine of 1847 cut the population of Ireland in half by a combination of starvation and emigration. Most Irish immigrants to America settled in Eastern cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Irish men built the Erie Canal and railroads, while Irish women worked as domestic servants. Later, the urban Irish-Americans took over many political machines, like Tammany Hall, and dominated the American Catholic priesthood and many police forces.
  • Germans, the second largest immigrant group in the Second Wave, left their homeland after the failure of the democratic revolutions of 1848 and in search of economic opportunity. They settled on farms and in the cities of the Midwest and Northeast. They came to dominate the American brewing industry.
  • Scandinavians from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark settled in the upper Midwest after the Civil War to work small farms.
  • Chinese: By the 1880s, over 100,000 Chinese immigrants had come to the West Coast of the United States due to poverty and war. Many worked on construction of the Transcontinental Railroads. Others were cooks, launderers, or miners.

Nativism: Anti-Immigrant Backlash

The surge in immigration led to America’s first organized anti-immigrant backlash in the 1850s. The ideology favoring those born in America and opposing immigrants was known as NATIVISM.

Opposition to immigrants was influenced by many differences between the existing US population and the newcomers:

  • Religion: Most Americans were Protestant and strongly prejudiced against the Catholicism of most new immigrants. Many Protestant Americans still saw the Pope as the Antichrist and viewed Catholics as religious terrorists out to subvert American democracy. A popular children’s game was “Break the Pope’s Neck.” The requirement that all public school students say Protestant prayers led to the creation of Catholic parochial schools in the United States.
  • Racialism: With Britain supplying only a minority of new immigrants, differences of language, culture, and ethnicity set the new immigrants apart. Many Americans were ethnocentric, believing their own culture the best, and not wanting it “polluted” by foreign ways. Under 19 th -century racial theories, many saw the new immigrants as belonging to a separate and inferior race.
  • Radicalism: Significant numbers of Second and Third Wave immigrants were socialists or attracted to forming labor unions. Both these political tendencies were taboo during the nineteenth century.
  • Rural Resentment: Most nineteenth-century Americans lived on farms in the country and disliked the growth of cities that accompanied the entrance of immigrants. They shared Thomas Jefferson’s belief in a rural ideal for America, and looked on cities and poor immigrants as alien and threatening to American social order.
  • Economic Resentment: Immigrants were seen as stealing jobs from “real Americans,” driving down wages, and increasing unemployment. Large and frequent riots between Nativist Protestant and Irish Catholic workers in East Coast cities in the middle 19 th Century resulted in the creation of the first professional police departments.

The most influential 19 th -century nativist group was the American Party, popularly known as the “Know Nothing Party” because its members pledged secrecy and responded to questions about their party by saying, “I know nothing.” The Know Nothings purported to defend Protestantism against Catholicism. They sought to limit elective office to the native-born, require 21 years of naturalization to achieve citizenship, and greatly restrict immigration.

The Know Nothing Party successfully elected six governors and several congressmen. In 1856, the party ran former U.S. President Millard Fillmore as its presidential candidate, winning 22% of the vote.

The popularity of the Know Nothing Party faded with the Civil War, as Irish-Americans displayed valor fighting for the Union.

Although Asian-Americans only comprised 0.002% of the US population by 1900, a strong nativist backlash portrayed them as a growing threat. Widespread anti-Chinese prejudice in the West led to riots and mob violence by the 1880s. Despised for their “foreign ways” and different race, the Chinese were also resented for being used as “scabs” during strikes.

State and local laws were passed discriminating against Chinese workers and shopkeepers. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which stopped Chinese immigration. Racial prejudice against Chinese-Americans kept them from being allowed to become U.S. Citizens until 1943.

THE THIRD WAVE: 1890s-1920s

Total Immigrants: 22.3 million

The population of the USA increased from 63 million in 1890 to 106 million in 1920, as immigration hit its peak. For three decades after 1890, an annual average of 580,000 immigrants arrived on American shores, and 1907 set a record of 1.3 million newcomers in a single year. On the eve of World War I, the foreign-born had swollen to 15% of the US population. With 75% of Third Wave immigrants coming through the Port of New York, the old state immigration center, Castle Garden, was overwhelmed. This led to the construction of the first federal immigration center, Ellis Island, which served as the main port of entry for American immigration from 1898 to 1924.

Where Third Wave Immigrants Came From

The character of immigration also changed with the Third Wave. Whereas in 1880, 87% of immigrants had been from Northwestern Europe (the British Isles, Germany, and Scandinavia), by 1900, over 80% were from Southern and Eastern Europe (Italy, Russia, Austro-Hungary). The size and greater cultural diversity of the Third Wave would give rise to a great new Xenophobia (fear and hatred of foreigners) that would slam the door to new arrivals in the 1920s.

The Third Wave: The “New Immigrants”

Many factors increased the numbers and diversity of immigrants after 1890:

“Push” Factors drove Southern and Eastern Europeans to leave their native countries:

  • High population growth in Southern and Eastern Europe.
  • Lack of jobs and food.
  • Scarcity of available farmland.
  • Mechanization of agriculture, which pushed peasants off the land.
  • Religious persecution of Russian Jews, who fled their villages after pogroms.

“Pull” Factors attracted immigrants to the USA:

  • Democracy.
  • Freedom of religion.
  • Available land.
  • Other forms of economic opportunity.
  • Booming industries like steel and railroads advertised for workers in Hungary and Poland. These new immigrants helped build new railroads and took jobs in steel mills.

Transportation improvements sped immigration:

  • By the late 19 th century, regularly scheduled steamships replaced sailing ships, cutting what had been a 3-month voyage across the Atlantic to a mere 2 weeks.

Crossing the Atlantic

Most poor immigrants traveled in 3 rd class or steerage, the open area bellow decks with no private cabin or bed. There, they slept on rough metal bunks and often got seasick. During the day, passengers crowded the deck to breathe fresh air, away from the foul smells of steerage.

Arriving in America: Welcome to Ellis Island!

While First and Second-Class passengers disembarked at Hudson River piers directly into New York City, the Third-Class passengers in steerage had to be processed at Ellis Island, the new federal immigrant processing center. There they waited in long lines clutching their few belongings, their papers that proved they were entitled to gain admittance to the land of liberty. Most only spent a few hours there showing their papers and passing through a barrage of medical and psychological tests to prove they were worthy (no illiterates, no anarchists, no contagious disease carriers) to gain legal enter to America. About 20% of Ellis Island immigrants were detained for some period on the island (usually for a medical condition) and released in less than 2 weeks), but ultimately, 98% passed through and gained entry to the USA. By 1970 nearly half the population of the US was descended from an immigrant who came through Ellis Island.

2/3 of Ellis Island immigrants traveled to the NJ Central Railroad Terminal (still located in Jersey City’s Liberty State Park) to get on a westbound train heading somewhere in America. Most settled in cities, which grew from having 25% of the US population in 1870 to over 50% by 1920. Most 3 rd Wave immigrants settled in poor urban neighborhoods with the cheapest housing, usually among others of their own ethnic group (“Little Italy, “Little Poland”‘). They set up their own businesses, churches and restaurants.They were subject to discrimination from landlords who refused to rent to them (often there were specific clauses put into deeds guaranteeing the new owner would never sell to a Catholic, Jew or black) and employers who refused to hire “their kind”. Jews suffered restrictions on their membership in many civic organizations and were kept out of many colleges due quotas that limited the number of Jews admitted. The government provided immigrants no aid, but they could get help from Immigrant Aid Societies of churches or ethnic organizations such as the Sons of Italy or Polish National Alliance.

Opposition and Restrictions

As the Third Wave grew in numbers, there was a new nativist backlash against immigration. Some Americans disapproved of the “new immigrants whom they saw as different from those who had come before them.

Third Wave immigrants were accused of:

  1. Taking jobs away from “native” Americans (ie WASPS, white Protestants).
  2. Being difficult to Americanize due to their lack of education, their tendency to cluster in urban ethnic ghettos, and their attachment to their own languages and customs.
  3. Being racially inferior, according to the theory of Nordic Supremacy that argued Northwestern Europeans were mentally and physically superior.

In 1894, the Immigration Restriction League was formed, and only President McKinley’s veto prevented them from enacting an English language literacy requirement. Standards were tightened at Ellis Island in the 1910s when Anarchists were officially banned from entry to America. Japanese immigration was ended in 1907 and all immigration from Asia soon after.

When World War I began, immigration greatly declined, but nationalist xenophobia increased and German immigrants were persecuted, some even lynched a new anti-immigrant fear was growing.

The End of the Third Wave: Closing the Gates

European economic collapse after WWI led to another surge in immigration, from 110,000 in 1919 to over 800,000 in 1921. Americans strongly rejected this new wave. Xenophobia exploded in reaction to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the Red Scare bombings of 1919. At the same time, the US economy sank into a deep depression, making foreigners seem a threat to US workers’ jobs. A revived Ku Klux Klan grew all over the country opposing not only blacks but Catholics and Jews as well. The Klan demanded strict new restrictions on immigration.

In 1921, the Republican congress passed the first of a series of new restrictions on immigration. the 1921 Immigration Quota Act capped annual immigration at 350,000 and set National Origins Quotas to limit each country’s total. Further revisions of the law in 1924 and 1929 eventually brought the total of immigrants allowed in the US down to 150,000 per year. Moreover, the details of the law reflected widespread prejudice against southern and eastern Europeans, whom most Americans considered to be racially inferior in those bigoted times.

These National Origins Quotas sounded fair on the surface, but were deliberately written to restrict southern and eastern Europeans. Quotas were based on 2% of the 1890 population of each nationality in the US. As there were hardly any Italians or Poles in the US in 1890, their quotas were miniscule, thus keeping out the people who most wanted to migrate to America. Thus, hundreds of thousands of poor Italians wished to migrate to the USA, but only 3,800 were allowed in, while the quota for British immigration was theoretically 65,000 per year (of which only 3,000 was used). The law also changed the racial complexion of the country, banning all immigrants from Asia, while exempting western-hemisphere immigrants from any quotas. So Canadians and Mexicans freely came into the US, while Asians, the majority of humans on the planet, were completely barred.

These laws caused a dramatic decline in immigration to America. Whereas 22.3 million people immigrated to America between 1891 and 1930, only 4.1 million immigrated between 1930 and 1960. Southern and Eastern European immigration declined by nearly 90% (87.3%). The foreign-born represented 15% of the population in 1930, but only 4.7% in 1960. Thus the middle of the 2oth century became the low tide of American immigration history.


Total migrants 10 million+

As the gates closed on new immigrants from outside the USA in the middle of the 20 th century growing businesses had to look inside America for new sources of labor. They found it in the American South, still rural and dirt poor in the early 20 th century. Over the course of the century southern farms that had been labor intensive gradually modernized and mechanized throwing millions of poor share croppers, both black and white, out of work. In WW1 and WW2 millions of jobs opened up at defense plants transforming small cities like Los Angeles and Detroit into boom towns. The postwar booms of the 1920s, 50s and 60s only increased the migration from South to North. Even during the Great Depression of the 1930s “Okies” who lost their farms in the Dust Bowl streamed to California to work as migrant laborers.

Although 3 million white southerners moved north, primarily to the West and Midwest the Great Internal migration is primarily a story of African Americans it is estimated that over 70% of these migrants were black. This would greatly alter the racial makeup of America. In 1900 92% of the black population of the US was concentrated in the South while today only about 47% lives there.

For both races a lack of economic opportunity in the South was the biggest reason for leaving. For blacks Jim Crow segregations’ denying of basic freedoms (voting, legal protections, access to good schools) and intense southern racism (the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1910s and the widespread practice of lynching) were major additional reasons.. As a result the black population of the South declined dramatically from 32% in 1900 (including black majorities in the states of South Carolina and Mississippi) to approximately 19% since 1980.

The North was where jobs and opportunity were. Blacks were willing to take the jobs at the bottom that whites didn’t want anymore. They worked in stockyards, slaughterhouses, as railroad porters and as domestic servants. Like the 3 rd wave before them they settled into ethnic neighborhoods (Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant in NYC, the south side of Chicago) where they established their own restaurants, businesses and churches. They suffered widespread discrimination in living housing and employment (legal until the late 1960s) and racial resentment from the much of the white majority. Major race riots broke out in northern cities after WW1 and again in the 1960s.

The African American population outside the South grew from 740,000 in 1900 to 10.6 million in 1970. Many northern cities that had been virtually all-white in 1900 developed large black populations and in some cases majorities (Detroit, Newark, Washington, DC).Whites began to flee cities for the suburbs in the 1950s and 60s as blacks and other minorities moved in. The poorest inner city neighborhoods evolved into dangerous slums with few opportunities for their residents as low skill jobs fled America or were replaced by technology. Blacks with education meanwhile created a growing African American middle class that was able to take advantage of the 1960s civil rights revolution and climb the ladder of success. The new northern African American voting bloc became key swing vote in elections from the 1940s to the 60s. The desire of both Republican and Democratic politicians for those votes helped push through the civil rights laws of the 1960s. In recent decades as the South has grown more tolerant and prosperous the migration has begun to reverse with slightly more African Americans moving South than North.


Total Immigrants: estimated 30+ million

US Population: 315 million+

The current wave of immigration is by far the largest in American history in absolute numbers: over 30 million legal immigrants have entered over the last four decades, supplemented by an illegal immigration of anywhere from 8 to 20 million. Primarily from Latin America and Asia,

The Fourth Wave is revitalizing and reshaping American society. As in the past, as the number of immigrants has grown it has produced a new anti- immigrant backlash and a debate about our immigration laws.

1924 1964: Low Tide for Immigration

From the onset of restrictive immigrant quotas in the 1920s, immigration to the US declined greatly. Between 1930 and 1960, there were a mere 4 million arrivals, fewer than had come during the decade of the 1920s alone. The shrinking of the foreign-born to a mere 5% of the population probably helped Third Wave Italian , Jewish and Slavic immigrant groups assimilate into American society during this “low tide” of immigration as did their patriotic service in World War I and World War II. Ellis Island was closed down and abandoned in 1954. Millions around the world wanted to emigrate to America, but were kept out by the quota system, while fewer chose to emigrate from the western European countries that were eligible due to rising standards of living after WWII.

The 1965 Immigration & Naturalization Act: How the Fourth Wave Began

In the 1960s, America finally confronted the issue of race and challenged its long-accepted system of racial segregation. Almost as an afterthought to the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) on October 3, 1965, ending what Johnson called "a cruel and enduring wrong," the old racist National Origins quota system that favored immigrants from Northwestern Europe. The new law made family reunification (76%), individual talents and skills (20%), and refugee status (6%) the new criteria for admittance. It also raised the total number of immigrants allowed to about 300,000 per year, a number that has gradually been increased to the present one million per year.

In 1965, no one predicted the long-term effects of the new immigration law for its full impact would take some time to be felt. Legal immigration increased to 3.3 million in the 1960s, 4.5 million in the 1970s, 7.3 million in the 1980s, and 9 million in the 1990s. However, in the 2000s, it declined significantly to an estimated 5 million.

Reasons for Increased Immigration

“Push Factors” that drove Fourth Wave immigrants from their native countries included:

  • rising population pressures,
  • the intense poverty of Third World countries, and
  • government repression.

These forces combined with the pull of US economic opportunity and freedom to spur the Fourth Wave of immigration. At the same time that America began opening its doors to immigrants again the introduction of jet aircraft which could cross oceans in a few hours greatly decreased the cost and difficulty of travel: a far cry from the terrifying weeks spent on cramped boats by the early immigrants.

Contemporary immigration has increased steadily because it is mostly "chain immigration," in which recent immigrants use the family preferences in the immigration law to sponsor other members of their families the more immigrants who come here the more family members become eligible and the overall quota is increased. As of 2006, the US accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than the rest of the world combined.

Port of Entry: Anywhere USA

Unlike past waves, there is no one central entry point for today's immigrants, who arrive at airports all over America in record numbers, or in other cases simply walk across the border.

The arrival experience of today's immigrant is far different than in the days of Ellis Island. On its busiest day, Ellis Island processed 11,000 people, whereas Newark Airport, only the fifth most common arrival point in the US today, averaged over 15,000 arrivals per day as of 2005.

All time-consuming medical tests and visa application screening is done in the country of origin, long before an immigrant's journey begins. Most foreign travelers now only spend 1-2 minutes going through US Customs on arrival at the airport.

Since September 11, 2001, new security measures have been implemented. Today, all arrivals are digitally fingerprinted and photographed for a huge federal database of all entry and exit records so that visitors to America may be kept track of

Where Fourth Wave Immigrants Come From

The Fourth Wave is the most diverse ever, with over 80% of immigrants coming from Latin America and Asia, bringing with them a veritable kaleidoscope of cultural traditions.

Fourth Wave Immigrants have come to the US to escape Communist dictatorships (Cubans, Vietnamese, and Chinese) and civil wars (Salvadorans). Most have come in search of economic opportunity (Filipinos, Dominicans, and Indians). All these groups, together with the Irish (the only traditional source that continued to supply large numbers of immigrants) today have more than a million of their countrymen now living in the US, along with an estimated nearly 10 million Mexicans.

A major difference between the Fourth Wave and early eras of immigration is the large group of illegal or undocumented immigrants among them. Many come over legally on temporary visas, but stay after the visas expire. Others walk in without visas, mostly over the Mexican border.

Most illegal immigrants are desperately poor, unskilled workers who come to America to take the lowest-paying jobs in our economy( just like the Irish in the mid 1800s). They are the farm workers, construction workers, housekeepers, dishwashers, gardeners, and meat processors.

As the number of illegal immigrants swelled to an estimated 5 million in 1986, a new Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was passed to deal with the problem.

  • The IRCA attempted to halt the influx of new illegals, while granting amnesty to existing illegal immigrants who wanted a chance to become legal US residents.
  • It imposed fines of up to $10,000 on employers for every illegal immigrant they employed.

The IRCA succeeded in legalizing over two million immigrants but failed in its other goals. Due to easily available fake IDs and inadequate funding for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to inspect workplaces, the IRCA did not deter employers from hiring illegals, whom they could hire more cheaply than US citizens or legal immigrants. The number of illegal immigrants has skyrocketed in the last 20 years to an estimated 11 million people.

In the 2000s, as in past eras, high US unemployment combined with a rising number of immigrants produced a nativist anti-immigrant backlash. Vigilante groups such as the “Minutemen” patrolled the southwestern border. Anti-immigrant legislation included a controversial Arizona law requiring police to check people’s immigration status.

Despite widespread agreement that immigration laws needed updating, a bipartisan effort to pass reform under President Bush collapsed in 2007. Instead, the Republican-led Congress opted to increase border security, constructing a multibillion-dollar fence on the Mexican border and doubling the size of the border patrol. They also vastly increased the number of immigration agents. As a result the Bush and Obama administrations vastly increased deportations and cracked down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

This crackdown on illegal immigrants, combined with demographic changes in Mexico, and the downturn in the US economy since 2008 have contributed to a drop in illegal border-crossings from an estimated 600,000 per year in 2005 to a mere 85,000 by 2011. But the crackdown also brought new problems— dividing families, depriving businesses of employees for low-paying jobs — without ending the problem of having an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already living in the US.

New Immigration Reform Proposals

Today, President Obama and a bipartisan group of senators are trying again to resolve the problem of illegal immigration. Early in 2013, a bipartisan group of 8 senators (including NJ’s Sen. Menendez and NY’s Sen. Schumer) proposed a new reform bill, the “ Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,”This measure passed the senate but was never given a vote in the Republican led House of Representatives. The act contains the following provisions:

  1. Before other provisions take effect, an independent panel would have to declare the border secure, and a new exit system for tracking departures of foreigners would be put in place.
  2. After that, a new legalization process would allow undocumented immigrants to legalize their status and become permanent residents. Applicants would be required to pass a security check and pay fines and back taxes. They could then begin a fourteen-year process that could ultimately lead to US citizenship.
  3. A new guest worker program would allow laborers to temporarily live and work in the US to help fill labor shortages.

These and other proposals are sure to be subject to much revision and debate as they proceed through Congress. Immigration reform is strongly supported by President Obama and most Democrats. It is also gaining support among Republicans hoping to improve their popularity with Latino voters, who voted heavily Democratic in recent elections. Because the number of Latino voters is expected to increase from 24 million in 2012 to an estimated 40 million in 2030, politicians in both parties can no longer ignore this growing portion of the population.

The Impact on America

The Fourth Wave has primarily settled in 7 states: California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey have over 70% of the immigrant population.

The new immigrants have revitalized many of America's cities, moving into depressed neighborhoods and made them thrive again.

The Fourth Wave brought an astounding new ethnic and religious diversity. Now the US has more Muslims (4%) than Jews (3%) and an increasing number of Buddhists (nearly 1%). Mexican, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern restaurants have sprung up all over.

The new immigration is drastically altering the ethnic demography of the Untied States. As recently as the 1970s, the US was still about 85% white, but that figure has dropped to about 60% today. If present trends continue, the percentage of Americans who are white will drop below 50% before 2050.

Long split on lines of black and white, America is fast becoming a "rainbow society" composed of all the different peoples on earth. Latinos have now overtaken African-Americans as the largest US "minority group," and may well comprise 1 in 4 Americans by 2050. Asian immigrants, a miniscule percentage of the US population before the Fourth Wave, may comprise nearly 10% of the population by mid-century.


The importance of immigration to our nation’s growth and success has slowly permeated our national consciousness after years of denial. Ellis Island, left to rot in New York harbor for a half century, was restored in time for its hundredth birthday in 1992 and reopened as a museum of US immigration history from colonial times to the present. Its 2 million annual visitors come from all four waves the American immigration experience. Four hundred years after its beginnings America is still a land of immigrants.

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