It has been suggested that this article should be split into articles titled Demographics of immigration to the United States and Public opinion of immigration to the United States. (discuss) (July 2021)
Naturalization ceremony at Oakton High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, December 2015.
Naturalization ceremony at Oakton High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, December 2015.
Immigrants to the United States take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, September 2010.
Immigrants to the United States take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, September 2010.
Population growth rate with and without migration in the U.S.
Population growth rate with and without migration in the U.S.

Immigration has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of the history of the United States. In absolute numbers, the United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country in the world, with 47 million immigrants as of 2015.[1] This represents 19.1% of the 244 million international migrants worldwide, and 14.4% of the United States' population.

According to the 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, the United States admitted a total of 1.18 million legal immigrants (618k new arrivals, 565k status adjustments) in 2016.[2] Of these, 48% were the immediate relatives of United States citizens, 20% were family-sponsored, 13% were refugees or asylum seekers, 12% were employment-based preferences, 4.2% were part of the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, 1.4% were victims of a crime (U1) or their family members were (U2 to U5),[3] and 1.0% who were granted the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for Iraqis and Afghans employed by the United States Government.[2] The remaining 0.4% included small numbers from several other categories, including 0.2% who were granted suspension of deportation as an immediate relative of a citizen (Z13);[4] persons admitted under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act; children born after the issuance of a parent's visa; and certain parolees from the former Soviet Union, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who were denied refugee status.[2]

Between 1921 and 1965, policies such as the national origins formula limited immigration and naturalization opportunities for people from areas outside Western Europe. Exclusion laws enacted as early as the 1880s generally prohibited or severely restricted immigration from Asia, and quota laws enacted in the 1920s curtailed Southern and Eastern European immigration. The civil rights movement led to the replacement[5] of these ethnic quotas with per-country limits for family-sponsored and employment-based preference visas.[6] Since then, the number of first-generation immigrants living in the United States has quadrupled.[7][8] The total immigrant population has stalled in recent years, especially since the election of Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic. Census estimates show 45.3 million foreign born residents in March 2018 and 45.4 million in September 2021; the lowest 3 year increase in decades.[9]

Research suggests that immigration is beneficial to the United States economy. With few exceptions, the evidence suggests that on average, immigration has positive economic effects on the native population, but it is mixed as to whether low-skilled immigration adversely affects low-skilled natives. Studies also show that immigrants have lower crime rates than natives in the United States.[10][11][12] The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding such issues as maintaining ethnic homogeneity, workers for employers versus jobs for non-immigrants, settlement patterns, impact on upward social mobility, crime, and voting behavior.


Main article: History of immigration to the United States

Immigrants on ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty, New York City, 1887
Immigrants on ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty, New York City, 1887

American immigration history can be viewed in four epochs: the colonial period, the mid-19th century, the start of the 20th century, and post-1965. Each period brought distinct national groups, races and ethnicities to the United States.

Colonial period

During the 17th century, approximately 400,000 English people migrated to colonial America.[13] They comprised 83.5% of the white population at the time of the first census in 1790.[14] From 1700 to 1775, between 350,000 and 500,000 Europeans immigrated: estimates vary in sources. Regarding English settlers of the 18th century, one source says 52,000 English migrated during the period of 1701 to 1775, although this figure is likely too low.[15][16] 400,000–450,000 of the 18th-century migrants were Scots, Scots-Irish from Ulster, Germans, Swiss, and French Huguenots.[17] Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America during the 17th and 18th centuries arrived as indentured servants.[18] They numbered 350,000.[19] From 1770 to 1775 (the latter year being when the American Revolutionary War began), 7,000 English, 15,000 Scots, 13,200 Scots-Irish, 5,200 Germans, and 3,900 Irish Catholics migrated to the Thirteen Colonies.[20] According to Butler (2000), up to half of English migrants in the 18th century may have been young, single men who were well-skilled, trained artisans, like the Huguenots.[21] Based on scholarly analysis of names recorded at the time of the first census in 1790, English was the largest single ancestry in all U.S. states, ranging from a high of 82% in Massachusetts to a low of 35.3% in Pennsylvania, where Germans accounted for 33.3%.

Origins of immigrant stock in 1790

The Census Bureau published preliminary estimates of the origins of the colonial American population by scholarly classification of the names of all White heads of families recorded in the 1790 Census in a 1909 report entitled A Century of Population Growth.[22] These initial estimates were scrutinized and rejected following passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, when the government required accurate official estimates of the origins of the colonial stock population as basis for computing National Origins Formula immigration quotas in the 1920s. In 1927, proposed quotas based on CPG figures were rejected by the President's Committee chaired by the Secretaries of State, Commerce, and Labor, with the President reporting to Congress "the statistical and historical information available raises grave doubts as to the whole value of these computations as the basis for the purposes intended".[23] Concluding that CPG "had not been accepted by scholars as better than a first approximation of the truth", an extensive scientific revision was produced, in collaboration with the American Council of Learned Societies, as basis for computing contemporary legal immigration quotas.[24] For this task scholars estimated the proportion of names of unique derivation from each of the major national stocks present in the population as of the 1790 census. The final results, later also published in the journal of the American Historical Association, are presented below:[23]

United States Estimated Nationalities of the White American population in the Continental United States as of the 1790 CensusUnited States[23]

State or Territory EnglandEnglishWales[a] ScotlandScotch Northern IrelandScotch-Irish IrelandIrish Holy Roman EmpireGerman Dutch RepublicDutch FranceFrench SwedenSwedishFinland[b] SpainSpanish Other Total
# % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # % # %
 Connecticut 155,598 67.00% 5,109 2.20% 4,180 1.80% 2,555 1.10% 697 0.30% 600 0.26% 2,100 0.90% 25 0.01% - 61,372 26.43% 232,236
 Delaware 27,786 60.00% 3,705 8.00% 2,918 6.30% 2,501 5.40% 509 1.10% 2,000 4.32% 750 1.62% 4,100 8.85% - 2,041 4.41% 46,310
 Georgia 30,357 57.40% 8,197 15.50% 6,082 11.50% 2,010 3.80% 4,019 7.60% 100 0.19% 1,200 2.27% 300 0.57% - 621 1.17% 52,886
 Kentucky &  Tennessee 53,874 57.90% 9,305 10.00% 6,513 7.00% 4,838 5.20% 13,026 14.00% 1,200 1.29% 2,000 2.15% 500 0.54% - 1,790 1.92% 93,046
 Maine 57,664 60.00% 4,325 4.50% 7,689 8.00% 3,556 3.70% 1,249 1.30% 100 0.10% 1,200 1.25% - - 20,324 21.15% 96,107
 Maryland &  District of Columbia 134,579 64.50% 15,857 7.60% 12,102 5.80% 13,562 6.50% 24,412 11.70% 1,000 0.48% 2,500 1.20% 950 0.46% - 3,687 1.77% 208,649
 Massachusetts 306,013 82.00% 16,420 4.40% 9,703 2.60% 4,851 1.30% 1,120 0.30% 600 0.16% 3,000 0.80% 75 0.02% - 31,405 8.42% 373,187
 New Hampshire 86,078 61.00% 8,749 6.20% 6,491 4.60% 4,092 2.90% 564 0.40% 100 0.07% 1,000 0.71% - - 34,038 24.12% 141,112
 New Jersey 79,878 47.00% 13,087 7.70% 10,707 6.30% 5,439 3.20% 15,636 9.20% 28,250 16.62% 4,000 2.35% 6,650 3.91% - 6,307 3.71% 169,954
 New York 163,470 52.00% 22,006 7.00% 16,033 5.10% 9,431 3.00% 25,778 8.20% 55,000 17.50% 12,000 3.82% 1,500 0.48% - 9,148 2.91% 314,366
 North Carolina 190,860 66.00% 42,799 14.80% 16,483 5.70% 15,616 5.40% 13,592 4.70% 800 0.28% 4,800 1.66% 700 0.24% - 3,531 1.22% 289,181
 Pennsylvania 149,451 35.30% 36,410 8.60% 46,571 11.00% 14,818 3.50% 140,983 33.30% 7,500 1.77% 7,500 1.77% 3,325 0.79% - 16,815 3.97% 423,373
 Rhode Island 45,916 71.00% 3,751 5.80% 1,293 2.00% 517 0.80% 323 0.50% 250 0.39% 500 0.77% 50 0.08% - 12,070 18.66% 64,670
 South Carolina 84,387 60.20% 21,167 15.10% 13,177 9.40% 6,168 4.40% 7,009 5.00% 500 0.36% 5,500 3.92% 325 0.23% - 1,945 1.39% 140,178
 Vermont 64,655 76.00% 4,339 5.10% 2,722 3.20% 1,616 1.90% 170 0.20% 500 0.59% 350 0.41% - - 10,720 12.60% 85,072
 Virginia &  West Virginia 302,850 68.50% 45,096 10.20% 27,411 6.20% 24,316 5.50% 27,853 6.30% 1,500 0.34% 6,500 1.47% 2,600 0.59% - 3,991 0.90% 442,117
Thirteen Colonies 1790 Census Area 1,933,416 60.94% 260,322 8.21% 190,075 5.99% 115,886 3.65% 276,940 8.73% 100,000 3.15% 54,900 1.73% 21,100 0.67% - 219,805 6.93% 3,172,444
Ohio Northwest Territory 3,130 29.81% 428 4.08% 307 2.92% 190 1.81% 445 4.24% - 6,000 57.14% - - - 10,500
New France French America 2,240 11.20% 305 1.53% 220 1.10% 135 0.68% 1,750 8.75% - 12,850 64.25% - 2,500 12.50% - 20,000
Spanish Empire Spanish America 610 2.54% 83 0.35% 60 0.25% 37 0.15% 85 0.35% - - - 23,125 96.35% - 24,000
 United States 1,939,396 60.10% 261,138 8.09% 190,662 5.91% 116,248 3.60% 279,220 8.65% 100,000 3.10% 73,750 2.29% 21,100 0.65% 25,625 0.79% 219,805 6.81% 3,226,944
  1. ^ and Welsh; ethnic Welsh people making up approximately 7-10% of settlers from England and Wales
  2. ^ and Finnish (including Forest Finns); ethnic Finns making up more than half of New Swedish colonial settlers[25]

Historians estimate that fewer than one million immigrants moved to the United States from Europe between 1600 and 1799.[26] By comparison, in the first federal census, in 1790, the population of the United States was enumerated to be 3,929,214.[27]

Early United States era

The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited naturalization to "free white persons"; it was expanded to include black people in the 1860s and Asian people in the 1950s.[28] This made the United States an outlier, since laws that made racial distinctions were uncommon in the world in the 18th century.[29]

In the early years of the United States, immigration (not counting the enslaved, who were treated as merchandise rather than people) was fewer than 8,000 people a year,[30] including French refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti. Legal importation of enslaved African was prohibited after 1808, though many were smuggled in to sell. After 1820, immigration gradually increased. From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States.[31] The death rate on these transatlantic voyages was high, during which one in seven travelers died.[32]

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902
Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902

After an initial wave of immigration from China following the California Gold Rush, Congress passed its first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875 which banned Chinese women.[33] This was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, banning virtually all immigration from China until the law's repeal in 1943. In the late 1800s, immigration from other Asian countries, especially to the West Coast, became more common.

Exclusion Era

The peak year of European immigration was in 1907, when 1,285,349 persons entered the country.[34] By 1910, 13.5 million immigrants were living in the United States.[35]

While the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had already excluded immigrants from China, the immigration of people from Asian countries in addition to China was banned by the Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, which also banned homosexuals, people with intellectual disability, and people with an anarchist worldview.[36] The Emergency Quota Act was enacted in 1921, limiting immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere by national quotas equal to 3 percent of the number of foreign-born from each nation in the 1910 census. The temporary quota system was superseded by the National Origins Formula of the Immigration Act of 1924, which computed national quotas as a fraction of 150,000 in proportion to the national origins of the entire White American population as of the 1920 census, except those having origins in the nonquota countries of the Western Hemisphere (which remained unrestricted).[37][38]

While the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had already excluded immigrants from China, the immigration of people from Asian countries in addition to China was banned by the Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, which also banned homosexuals, people with intellectual disability, and people with an anarchist worldview.[36] The Emergency Quota Act was enacted in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The 1924 Act was aimed at further restricting immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, particularly Italian, Slavic, and Jewish people, who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.[39] The 1924 Act also consolidated the prohibition of Asian immigration.[40]

Origins of immigrant stock in 1920

The National Origins Formula was a unique computation which attempted to measure the total contributions of "blood" from each national origin as a share of the total stock of White Americans in 1920, counting immigrants, children of immigrants, and the grandchildren of immigrants (and later generations), in addition to estimating the colonial stock population descended from the population who had immigrated in the colonial period and were enumerated in the 1790 census. European Americans remained predominant, although there were shifts toward Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe from immigration in the period 1790 to 1920. The restrictive immigration quota system established by the Immigration Act of 1924, revised and re-affirmed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, sought to preserve this demographic makeup of America by allotting quotas in proportion to how much blood each national origin had contributed to the total stock of the population in 1920, as presented below:[24]

The White Population of the United States in 1920, apportioned according to the National Origins Formula prescribed by §11(c) of the Immigration Act of 1924. About 56.5% of White Americans were deemed to be of postcolonial immigrant stock as of 1920, while 43.5% were deemed colonial stock. Consequent immigration quotas in effect until 1965 were based upon these calculations.[41]
European Americans in 1790 by nationality, estimated by classification of family names, according to a 1909 preliminary estimate in Census Bureau report A Century of Population Growth (top half) and revised figures according to a scientific study by the Census Bureau in collaboration with the American Council of Learned Societies commissioned in the 1920s (bottom half).[22][23]
Country of origin Total Colonial stock Postcolonial stock
Total Immigrants Children of Grandchildren of
# % # % # % # % # % # %
 Austria 843,051 0.89% 14,110 0.03% 828,951 1.55% 305,657 2.23% 414,794 2.16% 108,500 0.53%
 Belgium 778,328 0.82% 602,300 1.46% 176,028 0.33% 62,686 0.46% 62,042 0.32% 51,300 0.25%
 Czechoslovakia 1,715,128 1.81% 54,700 0.13% 1,660,428 3.10% 559,895 4.08% 903,933 4.71% 196,600 0.95%
 Denmark 704,783 0.74% 93,200 0.23% 611,583 1.14% 189,934 1.39% 277,149 1.44% 144,500 0.70%
 Estonia 69,013 0.07% - 69,013 0.13% 33,612 0.25% 28,001 0.15% 7,400 0.04%
 Finland 339,436 0.36% 4,300 0.01% 335,136 0.63% 149,824 1.09% 146,612 0.76% 38,700 0.19%
 France 1,841,689 1.94% 767,100 1.86% 1,074,589 2.01% 155,019 1.13% 325,270 1.69% 594,300 2.88%
 Germany 15,488,615 16.33% 3,036,800 7.36% 12,451,815 23.26% 1,672,375 12.20% 4,051,240 21.11% 6,728,200 32.61%
 Greece 182,936 0.19% - 182,936 0.34% 135,146 0.99% 46,890 0.24% 900 0.00%
 Hungary 518,750 0.55% - 518,750 0.97% 318,977 2.33% 183,773 0.96% 16,000 0.08%
 Ireland 10,653,334 11.24% 1,821,500 4.41% 8,831,834 16.50% 820,970 5.99% 2,097,664 10.93% 5,913,200 28.66%
 Italy 3,462,271 3.65% - 3,462,271 6.47% 1,612,281 11.76% 1,671,490 8.71% 178,500 0.87%
 Latvia 140,777 0.15% - 140,777 0.26% 69,277 0.51% 56,000 0.29% 15,500 0.08%
 Lithuania 230,445 0.24% - 230,445 0.43% 117,000 0.85% 88,645 0.46% 24,800 0.12%
 Netherlands 1,881,359 1.98% 1,366,800 3.31% 514,559 0.96% 133,478 0.97% 205,381 1.07% 175,700 0.85%
 Norway 1,418,592 1.50% 75,200 0.18% 1,343,392 2.51% 363,862 2.65% 597,130 3.11% 382,400 1.85%
 Poland 3,892,796 4.11% 8,600 0.02% 3,884,196 7.26% 1,814,426 13.23% 1,779,570 9.27% 290,200 1.41%
 Portugal 262,804 0.28% 23,700 0.06% 239,104 0.45% 104,088 0.76% 105,416 0.55% 29,600 0.14%
 Romania 175,697 0.19% - 175,697 0.33% 88,942 0.65% 83,755 0.44% 3,000 0.02%
 Russia 1,660,954 1.75% 4,300 0.01% 1,656,654 3.09% 767,324 5.60% 762,130 3.97% 127,200 0.62%
 Spain 150,258 0.16% 38,400 0.09% 111,858 0.21% 50,027 0.36% 24,531 0.13% 37,300 0.18%
 Sweden 1,977,234 2.09% 217,100 0.53% 1,760,134 3.29% 625,580 4.56% 774,854 4.04% 359,700 1.74%
 Switzerland 1,018,706 1.07% 388,900 0.94% 629,806 1.18% 118,659 0.87% 203,547 1.06% 307,600 1.49%
 Syria & Leb. 73,442 0.08% - 73,442 0.14% 42,039 0.31% 31,403 0.16% -
 Turkey 134,756 0.14% - 134,756 0.25% 102,669 0.75% 31,487 0.16% 600 0.00%
 United Kingdom 39,216,333 41.36% 31,803,900 77.02% 7,412,433 13.85% 1,365,314 9.96% 2,308,419 12.03% 3,738,700 18.12%
 Yugoslavia 504,203 0.53% - 504,203 0.94% 220,668 1.61% 265,735 1.38% 17,800 0.09%
Other Countries 170,868 0.18% 3,500 0.01% 167,368 0.31% 71,553 0.52% 93,815 0.49% 2,000 0.01%
All Quota Countries 89,506,558 100.00% 40,324,400 45.05% 49,182,158 54.95% 12,071,282 13.49% 17,620,676 19.69% 19,490,200 21.78%
Nonquota Countries 5,314,357 5.60% 964,170 2.34% 4,350,187 8.13% 1,641,472 11.97% 1,569,696 8.18% 1,139,019 5.52%
1920  USA Total 94,820,915 100.00% 41,288,570 43.54% 53,532,345 56.46% 13,712,754 14.46% 19,190,372 20.24% 20,629,219 21.76%
Polish immigrants working on the farm, 1909. The welfare system was practically non-existent before the 1930s and the economic pressures on the poor were giving rise to child labor.
Polish immigrants working on the farm, 1909. The welfare system was practically non-existent before the 1930s and the economic pressures on the poor were giving rise to child labor.

Immigration patterns of the 1930s were affected by the Great Depression. In the final prosperous year, 1929, there were 279,678 immigrants recorded,[42] but in 1933, only 23,068 moved to the U.S.[26] In the early 1930s, more people emigrated from the United States than to it.[43] The U.S. government sponsored a Mexican Repatriation program which was intended to encourage people to voluntarily move to Mexico, but thousands were deported against their will.[44] Altogether, approximately 400,000 Mexicans were repatriated; half of them were US citizens.[45] Most of the Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and World War II were barred from coming to the United States.[46] In the post-war era, the Justice Department launched Operation Wetback, under which 1,075,168 Mexicans were deported in 1954.[47]

Since 1965

Immigrant trunks. Left, from Sweden, late 19th century. Right, from Refugee camp in Thailand, 1993.
Immigrant trunks. Left, from Sweden, late 19th century. Right, from Refugee camp in Thailand, 1993.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, abolished the system of national-origin quotas. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations, which changed the ethnic demographics of the United States.[48] In 1970, 60% of immigrants were from Europe; this decreased to 15% by 2000.[49] In 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990,[50] which increased legal immigration to the United States by 40%.[51] In 1991, Bush signed the Armed Forces Immigration Adjustment Act 1991, allowing foreign service members who had served 12 or more years in the US Armed Forces to qualify for permanent residency and, in some cases, citizenship.

In November 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187 amending the state constitution, denying state financial aid to illegal immigrants. The federal courts voided this change, ruling that it violated the federal constitution.[52]

Appointed by Bill Clinton,[53] the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recommended reducing legal immigration from about 800,000 people per year to approximately 550,000.[54] While an influx of new residents from different cultures presents some challenges, "the United States has always been energized by its immigrant populations", said President Bill Clinton in 1998. "America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants ... They have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people."[55]

Boston Chinatown, Massachusetts, 2008.
Boston Chinatown, Massachusetts, 2008.

In 2001, President George W. Bush discussed an accord with Mexican President Vincente Fox. Due to the September 11 attacks, the possible accord did not occur. From 2005 to 2013, the US Congress discussed various ways of controlling immigration. The Senate and House were unable to reach an agreement.[52]

Nearly 14 million immigrants entered the United States from 2000 to 2010,[56] and over one million persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008. The per-country limit[6] applies the same maximum on the number of visas to all countries regardless of their population and has therefore had the effect of significantly restricting immigration of persons born in populous nations such as Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines—the leading countries of origin for legally admitted immigrants to the United States in 2013;[57] nevertheless, China, India, and Mexico were the leading countries of origin for immigrants overall to the United States in 2013, regardless of legal status, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study.[58]

Nearly 8 million people immigrated to the United States from 2000 to 2005; 3.7 million of them entered without papers.[59][60] In 1986 president Ronald Reagan signed immigration reform that gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants in the country.[61] Hispanic immigrants suffered job losses during the late-2000s recession,[62] but since the recession's end in June 2009, immigrants posted a net gain of 656,000 jobs.[63] Over 1 million immigrants were granted legal residence in 2011.[64]

For those who enter the US illegally across the Mexico–United States border and elsewhere, migration is difficult, expensive and dangerous.[65] Virtually all undocumented immigrants have no avenues for legal entry to the United States due to the restrictive legal limits on green cards, and lack of immigrant visas for low-skilled workers.[66] Participants in debates on immigration in the early 21st century called for increasing enforcement of existing laws governing illegal immigration to the United States, building a barrier along some or all of the 2,000-mile (3,200 km) Mexico-U.S. border, or creating a new guest worker program. Through much of 2006 the country and Congress was engaged in a debate about these proposals. As of April 2010 few of these proposals had become law, though a partial border fence had been approved and subsequently canceled.[67]

Modern reform attempts

Beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, presidents from both political parties have steadily increased the number of border patrol agents and instituted harsher punitive measures for immigration violations. Examples of these policies include Ronald Reagan's Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Clinton-era Prevention Through Deterrence strategy. The sociologist Douglas Massey has argued that these policies have succeeded at producing a perception of border enforcement but have largely failed at preventing emigration from Latin America. Notably, rather than curtailing illegal immigration, the increase in border patrol agents decreased circular migration across the U.S.–Mexico border, thus increasing the population of Hispanics in the U.S.[68]

Presidents from both parties have employed anti-immigrant rhetoric to appeal to their political base or to garner bi-partisan support for their policies. While Republicans like Reagan and Donald Trump have led the way in framing Hispanic immigrants as criminals, Douglas Massey points out that "the current moment of open racism and xenophobia could not have happened with Democratic acquiescence".[69] For example, while lobbying for his 1986 immigration bill, Reagan framed unauthorized immigration as a "national security" issue and warned that "terrorists and subversives are just two days' driving time" from the border.[69] Later presidents, including Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, used similar "security" rhetoric in their efforts to court Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, Obama said "real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history".[70]

Trump administration policies

ICE reports that it removed 240,255 immigrants in fiscal year 2016, as well as 226,119 in FY2017 and 256,085 in FY2018. Citizens of Central American countries (including Mexico) made up over 90% of removals in FY2017 and over 80% in FY2018.[71]

In January 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending entry to the United States by nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries. It was replaced by another executive order in March 2017 and by a presidential proclamation in September 2017, with various changes to the list of countries and exemptions.[72] The orders were temporarily suspended by federal courts but later allowed to proceed by the Supreme Court, pending a definite ruling on their legality.[73] Another executive order called for the immediate construction of a wall across the U.S.–Mexico border, the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol agents and 10,000 new immigration officers, and federal funding penalties for sanctuary cities.[74]

The "zero-tolerance" policy was put in place in 2018, which legally allows children to be separated from adults unlawfully entering the United States. This is justified by labeling all adults that enter unlawfully as criminals, thus subjecting them to criminal prosecution.[75] The Trump Administration also argued that its policy had precedent under the Obama Administration, which had opened family detention centers in response to migrants increasingly using children as a way to get adults into the country. However, the Obama Administration detained families together in administrative, rather than criminal, detention.[76][77]

Other policies focused on what it means for an asylum seeker to claim credible fear.[78] To further decrease the amount of asylum seekers into the United States, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a decision that restricts those fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse as "private crime", therefore making their claims ineligible for asylum.[79] These new policies that have been put in place are putting many lives at risk, to the point that the ACLU has officially sued Jeff Sessions along with other members of the Trump Administration. The ACLU claims that the policies that are currently being put in place by this Presidential Administration is undermining the fundamental human rights of those immigrating into the United States, specifically women. They also claim that these policies violate decades of settle asylum law.[80]

In April 2020, President Trump said he will sign an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration to the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.[81][82]

Biden administration policies

Main article: Immigration policy of the Joe Biden administration

In January 2023, regarding the southern border crisis, Joe Biden announced a new immigration policy that would allow 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela[83] but will also expel the migrants from those countries who violate US laws of immigration.[84] The policy has faced criticism from "immigration reform advocates and lawyers who decry any expansion of Title 42."[83]

Origins of the U.S. immigrant population, 1960–2016

% of foreign-born population residing in the U.S. who were born in ...[85]
1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2018
Europe-Canada 84% 68% 42% 26% 19% 15% 15% 14% 14% 14% 14% 13% 13%
South and East Asia 4% 7% 15% 22% 23% 25% 25% 26% 26% 26% 27% 27% 28%
Other Latin America 4% 11% 16% 21% 22% 24% 24% 24% 24% 24% 24% 25% 25%
Mexico 6% 8% 16% 22% 29% 29% 29% 28% 28% 28% 27% 26% 25%

Note: "Other Latin America" includes Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Persons obtaining legal permanent resident status by fiscal year[86][87][88][89]
Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year
1890 455,302 1910 1,041,570 1930 241,700 1950 249,187 1970 373,326 1990 1,535,872 2010 1,042,625 2018 1,096,611
1895 258,536 1915 326,700 1935 34,956 1955 237,790 1975 385,378 1995 720,177 2015 1,051,031 2019 1,031,765
1900 448,572 1920 430,001 1940 70,756 1960 265,398 1980 524,295 2000 841,002 2016 1,183,505 2020 707,362
1905 1,026,499 1925 294,314 1945 38,119 1965 296,697 1985 568,149 2005 1,122,257 2017 1,127,167 2021 740,002
Decade Average per year
1890–99 369,100
1900–09 745,100
1910–19 634,400
1920–29 429,600
1930–39 69,900
1940–49 85,700
1950–59 249,900
1960–69 321,400
1970–79 424,800
1980–89 624,400
1990–99 977,500
2000–09 1,029,900
2010–19 1,063,300
Refugee numbers
Operation Allies Refuge: Afghans being evacuated on a US Air Force Boeing C-17 plane during the Fall of Kabul (2021)
Operation Allies Refuge: Afghans being evacuated on a US Air Force Boeing C-17 plane during the Fall of Kabul (2021)

Main article: Asylum in the United States

According to the Department of State, in the 2016 fiscal year 84,988 refugees were accepted into the US from around the world. In the fiscal year of 2017, 53,691 refugees were accepted to the US. There was a significant decrease after Trump took office; it continued in the fiscal year of 2018 when only 22,405 refugees were accepted into the US. This displays a massive drop in acceptance of refugees since the Trump Administration has been in place.[90][original research?]

On September 26, 2019, The Trump administration announced it plans to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, its lowest level since the modern program began in 1980.[91][92][93][94]

In 2020 The Trump administration announces that it plans to slash refugee admissions to U.S. for 2021 to a record low, 15,000 refugees down from a cap of 18,000 for 2020. This is the fourth consecutive year of declining refugee admissions under the Trump term.[95][96][97]

Period Refugee Program
2018 45,000
2019 30,000
2020 18,000
2021 15,000

Contemporary immigration

Naturalization ceremony, Salem, Massachusetts, 2007
Naturalization ceremony, Salem, Massachusetts, 2007

As of 2018, approximately half of immigrants living in the United States are from Mexico and other Latin American countries.[100] Many Central Americans are fleeing because of desperate social and economic circumstances in their countries. Some believe that the large number of Central American refugees arriving in the United States can be explained as a "blowback" to policies such as United States military interventions and covert operations that installed or maintained in power authoritarian leaders allied with wealthy land owners and multinational corporations who stop family farming and democratic efforts, which have caused drastically sharp social inequality, wide-scale poverty and rampant crime.[101] Economic austerity dictated by neoliberal policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund and its ally, the U.S., has also been cited as a driver of the dire social and economic conditions, as has the U.S. "War on Drugs", which has been understood as fueling murderous gang violence in the region.[102] Another major migration driver from Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) are crop failures, which are (partly) caused by climate change.[103][104][105][106] "The current debate ... is almost totally about what to do about immigrants when they get here. But the 800-pound gorilla that's missing from the table is what we have been doing there that brings them here, that drives them here", according to Jeff Faux, an economist who is a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute.

Until the 1930s most legal immigrants were male. By the 1990s women accounted for just over half of all legal immigrants.[107] Contemporary immigrants tend to be younger than the native population of the United States, with people between the ages of 15 and 34 substantially overrepresented.[108] Immigrants are also more likely to be married and less likely to be divorced than native-born Americans of the same age.[109]

Immigrants are likely to move to and live in areas populated by people with similar backgrounds. This phenomenon has remained true throughout the history of immigration to the United States.[110] Seven out of ten immigrants surveyed by Public Agenda in 2009 said they intended to make the U.S. their permanent home, and 71% said if they could do it over again they would still come to the US. In the same study, 76% of immigrants say the government has become stricter on enforcing immigration laws since the September 11, 2001 attacks ("9/11"), and 24% report that they personally have experienced some or a great deal of discrimination.[111]

Public attitudes about immigration in the U.S. were heavily influenced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. After the attacks, 52% of Americans believed that immigration was a good thing overall for the U.S., down from 62% the year before, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.[112] A 2008 Public Agenda survey found that half of Americans said tighter controls on immigration would do "a great deal" to enhance U.S. national security.[113] Harvard political scientist and historian Samuel P. Huntington argued in his 2004 book Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity that a potential future consequence of continuing massive immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, could lead to the bifurcation of the United States.[114][115]

The estimated population of illegal Mexican immigrants in the US decreased from approximately 7 million in 2007 to 6.1 million in 2011[116] Commentators link the reversal of the immigration trend to the economic downturn that started in 2008 and which meant fewer available jobs, and to the introduction of tough immigration laws in many states.[117][118][119][120] According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the net immigration of Mexican born persons had stagnated in 2010, and tended toward going into negative figures.[121]

More than 80 cities in the United States,[122] including Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Detroit, Jersey City, Minneapolis, Denver, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine, have sanctuary policies, which vary locally.[123]

Origin countries

See also: United States immigration statistics

Inflow of New Legal Permanent Residents by region, 2015–2020
Region 2015 % of total 2016 % of total 2017 % of total 2018[87] % of total 2019[88] % of total 2020[89] % of total Increase/Decrease% in 2020
Americas 438,435 41.7% 506,901 42.8% 492,726 43.7% 497,860 45.4% 461,710 44.8% 284,491 40.2% Decrease38.4%
Asia 419,297 39.9% 462,299 39.1% 424,743 37.7% 397,187 36.2% 364,761 35.4% 272,597 38.5% Decrease25.3%
Africa 101,415 9.7% 113,426 9.6% 118,824 10.5% 115,736 10.6% 111,194 10.8% 76,649 10.8% Decrease31.1%
Europe 85,803 8.2% 93,567 7.9% 84,335 7.5% 80,024 7.3% 87,597 8.5% 68,994 9.8% Decrease21.2%
Australia and Oceania 5,404 0.5% 5,588 0.5% 5,071 0.5% 4,653 0.4% 5,359 0.5% 3,998 0.6% Decrease25.4%
Unknown 677 0.1% 1,724 0.1% 1,468 0.1% 1,151 0.1% 1,144 0.1% 633 >0.1% Decrease
Total 1,051,031 100% 1,183,505 100% 1,127,167 100% 1,096,611 100% 1,031,765 100% 707,632 100% Decrease31.4%

Source: US Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics[124][125][126][127]

Top 15 sending countries, 2015–2021:[128]
Country 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
 Mexico 158,619 174,534 170,581 161,858 156,052 100,325 107,230
 India 64,116 64,687 60,394 59,821 54,495 46,363 93,450
 China 74,558 81,772 71,565 65,214 62,248 41,483 49,847
 Philippines 56,478 53,287 49,147 47,258 45,920 25,491 27,511
 Dominican Republic 50,610 61,161 58,520 57,413 49,911 30,005 24,553
 Cuba 54,396 66,516 65,028 76,486 41,641 16,367 23,077
 El Salvador 19,487 23,449 25,109 28,326 27,656 17,907 18,668
 Brazil 11,424 13,812 14,989 15,394 19,825 16,746 18,351
 Vietnam 30,832 41,451 38,231 33,834 39,712 29,995 16,312
 Colombia 17,316 18,610 17,956 17,545 19,841 11,989 15,293
 Venezuela 9,144 10,772 11,809 11,762 15,720 12,136 14,412
 Jamaica 17,642 23,350 21,905 20,347 21,689 12,826 13,357
 Nigeria 11,542 14,380 13,539 13,952 15,888 12,398 13,100
 South Korea 17,138 21,801 19,194 17,676 18,479 16,244 12,351
 Haiti 16,967 23,584 21,824 21,360 17,253 9,338 11,456
Total 1,051,031 1,183,505 1,127,167 1,096,611 1,031,765 707,362 740,002


Inflow of New Legal Permanent Residents by continent in 2020:[89]

  Americas (40.2%)
  Asia (38.5%)
  Africa (10.8%)
  Europe (9.8%)
  Unknown (0.1%)

Languages spoken among U.S. immigrants, 2016:[85]

  English only (16%)
  Spanish (43%)
  Chinese (6%)
  Hindi and related languages (5%)
  French (3%)
  Vietnamese (3%)
  Arabic (2%)
  Other (18%)


Extent and destinations

See also: List of U.S. states by net international migration

Little Italy in New York, ca.1900
Little Italy in New York, ca.1900
Crowd at the Philippine Independence Day Parade in New York City
Crowd at the Philippine Independence Day Parade in New York City
Galveston Immigration Stations
Galveston Immigration Stations
Year[129] Number of
1850 2,244,602 9.7
1860 4,138,697 13.2
1870 5,567,229 14.4
1880 6,679,943 13.3
1890 9,249,547 14.8
1900 10,341,276 13.6
1910 13,515,886 14.7
1920 13,920,692 13.2
1930 14,204,149 11.6
1940 11,594,896 8.8
1950 10,347,395 6.9
1960 9,738,091 5.4
1970 9,619,302 4.7
1980 14,079,906 6.2
1990 19,767,316 7.9
2000 31,107,889 11.1
2010 39,956,000 12.9
2017 44,525,500 13.7
2018 44,728,502 13.5
2019 44,932,799

The United States admitted more legal immigrants from 1991 to 2000, between ten and eleven million, than in any previous decade. In the most recent decade,[when?] the 10 million legal immigrants that settled in the U.S. represent roughly one third of the annual growth, as the U.S. population increased by 32 million (from 249 million to 281 million). By comparison, the highest previous decade was the 1900s, when 8.8 million people arrived, increasing the total U.S. population by one percent every year. Specifically, "nearly 15% of Americans were foreign-born in 1910, while in 1999, only about 10% were foreign-born".[134]

By 1970, immigrants accounted for 4.7 percent of the US population and rising to 6.2 percent in 1980, with an estimated 12.5 percent in 2009.[135] As of 2010, 25% of US residents under age 18 were first- or second-generation immigrants.[136] Eight percent of all babies born in the U.S. in 2008 belonged to illegal immigrant parents, according to a recent[when?] analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center.[137]

Legal immigration to the U.S. increased from 250,000 in the 1930s, to 2.5 million in the 1950s, to 4.5 million in the 1970s, and to 7.3 million in the 1980s, before becoming stable at about 10 million in the 1990s.[138] Since 2000, legal immigrants to the United States number approximately 1,000,000 per year, of whom about 600,000 are Change of Status who already are in the U.S. Legal immigrants to the United States now[when?] are at their highest level ever, at just over 37,000,000 legal immigrants. In reports in 2005–2006, estimates of illegal immigration ranged from 700,000 to 1,500,000 per year.[139][140] Immigration led to a 57.4% increase in foreign-born population from 1990 to 2000.[141]

Foreign-born immigration has caused the U.S. population to continue its rapid increase with the foreign-born population doubling from almost 20 million in 1990 to over 47 million in 2015.[1] In 2018, there were almost 90 million immigrants and U.S.-born children of immigrants (second-generation Americans) in the United States, accounting for 28% of the overall U.S. population.[142]

While immigration has increased drastically over the 20th century, the foreign-born share of the population is, at 13.4, only somewhat below what it was at its peak in 1910 at 14.7%. A number of factors may be attributed to the decrease in the representation of foreign-born residents in the United States. Most significant has been the change in the composition of immigrants; prior to 1890, 82% of immigrants came from North and Western Europe. From 1891 to 1920, that number decreased to 25%, with a rise in immigrants from East, Central, and South Europe, summing up to 64%. Animosity towards these different and foreign immigrants increased in the United States, resulting in much legislation to limit immigration.[citation needed]

Contemporary immigrants settle predominantly in seven states, California, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois, comprising about 44% of the U.S. population as a whole. The combined total immigrant population of these seven states was 70% of the total foreign-born population in 2000.


Foreign-born population of the United States in 2017, by country of birth.      >10,000,000   1,000,000–3,000,000   300,000–1,000,000   100,000–300,000     30,000–100,000   <30,000   United States and its territories
Foreign-born population of the United States in 2017, by country of birth.
  United States and its territories
Immigrants to the United States (2012–2016) per thousand inhabitants of each country of origin (2012).      >10.0   3.0–10.0   1.0–3.0   0.3–1.0     0.1–0.3   <0.1   United States and its territories
Immigrants to the United States (2012–2016) per thousand inhabitants of each country of origin (2012).
  United States and its territories

Foreign-born population in the United States in 2019 by country of birth[132][143]

Country of birth Change (2019) Population (2019) 2018–2019
Total foreign-born Increase 44,932,799 +204,297
 Mexico Decrease 10,931,939 −239,954
 India Increase 2,688,075 +35,222
 China[a] Increase 2,250,230 +28,287
 Philippines Increase 2,045,248 +31,492
 El Salvador Decrease 1,412,101 −7,229
 Vietnam Increase 1,383,779 +38,026
 Cuba Increase 1,359,990 +16,030
 Dominican Republic Decrease 1,169,420 −8,444
 South Korea[b] Decrease 1,038,885 −214
 Guatemala Increase 1,111,495 +104,508
 Colombia Increase 808,148 +18,587
 Canada Decrease 797,158 −16,506
 Jamaica Increase 772,215 +38,786
 Honduras Increase 745,838 +99,585
 Haiti Increase 701,688 +14,502
 United Kingdom[c] Decrease 687,186 −12,007
 Germany Decrease 537,691 −21,411
 Brazil Increase 502,104 +29,467
 Venezuela Increase 465,235 +71,394
 Peru Decrease 446,063 −21,109
 Ecuador Decrease 431,150 −11,955
 Poland Increase 404,107 +5,321
 Pakistan Increase 398,399 +19,296
 Nigeria Increase 392,811 +18,100
 Russia Increase 392,422 +8,917
 Iran Increase 385,473 +3,522
 Taiwan Decrease 371,851 −18,299
 Ukraine Increase 354,832 +28,947
 Japan Decrease 333,273 −28,292
 Italy Decrease 314,867 −10,036
 Bangladesh Increase 261,348 +296
 Thailand Decrease 260,820 −8,561
 Nicaragua Decrease 257,343 −4,734
 Ethiopia Decrease 256,032 −22,051
 Guyana Decrease 253,847 −26,450
 Iraq Increase 249,670 +12,248
 Hong Kong Decrease 231,469 −1,779
 Trinidad and Tobago Decrease 212,798 −9,770
 Argentina Increase 210,767 +16,346
 Egypt[d] Decrease 205,852 −1,727
 Ghana Increase 199,163 +3,792
 Laos Decrease 176,904 −7,486
 France[e] Decrease 171,452 −19,727
 Romania Increase 167,751 +5,308
   Nepal Increase 166,651 +18,017
 Portugal Decrease 161,500 −8,390
 Kenya Increase 153,414 +6,854
 Burma Increase 150,877 +10,486
 Cambodia Increase 149,326 +10,792
 Israel[f] Increase 132,477 +2,551
 Afghanistan Increase 132,160 +18,491
 Lebanon Decrease 120,065 −1,861
 Greece Decrease 119,571 −6,128
 Turkey Decrease 117,291 −9,203
 Spain Decrease 116,077 −1,713
 Somalia Increase 114,607 +11,230
 Ireland Decrease 111,886 −13,104
 South Africa Increase 111,116 +11,444
 Bosnia and Herzegovina Decrease 104,612 −957
 Indonesia Increase 101,622 +7,543
 Panama Decrease 101,076 −2,674
 Australia Increase 98,969 +8,382
 Liberia Increase 98,116 +12,824
 Albania Increase 94,856 +4,617
 Chile Decrease 93,950 −9,080
 Costa Rica Increase 93,620 +6,237
 Syria[g] Decrease 92,514 −19,252
 Jordan[h] Increase 90,018 +2,335
 Armenia Increase 87,419 +151
 Netherlands[i] Decrease 82,603 −5,632
 Bolivia Increase 79,804 +447
 Morocco[j] Decrease 77,434 −1,978
 Saudi Arabia Increase 76,840 +2,166
 Malaysia Decrease 76,712 −5,844
 Cameroon Decrease 72,634 −5,374
former  Czechoslovakia Increase 68,312 +3,960
 Bulgaria Decrease 66,950 −5,239
 Uzbekistan Decrease 65,216 −3,296
 Hungary Decrease 64,852 −2,413
 Democratic Republic of the Congo 60,512 +/−
 Yemen Decrease 58,627 −3,795
 Belarus Decrease 57,315 −13,654
 Barbados Decrease 52,279 −1,097
 Sri Lanka Decrease 51,695 −305
 Sudan Decrease 51,351 −1,300
 Eritrea Increase 49,355 +4,245
 Uruguay Increase 48,900 +2,638
 Fiji Increase 48,710 +5,195
 Moldova Decrease 46,388 −1,379
 Sierra Leone Decrease 45,506 −2,328
 Belize Decrease 44,364 −2,923
 Uganda 44,150 +/−
 Sweden Decrease 43,506 −6,236
 Switzerland Increase 42,958 +8,536
 Bahamas Increase 40,067 +10,851
 Austria Increase 39,083 +100
 Serbia Increase 39,020 +1,585
 Republic of the Congo 38,932 +/−
 Croatia Decrease 37,044 −1,941
 Cape Verde Decrease 36,410 −663
 Dominica Decrease 36,372 −721
 Singapore Decrease 33,736 −466
 Kazakhstan Increase 33,438 +5,148
 Lithuania Decrease 32,655 −445
 Belgium Decrease 32,323 −3,431
 Denmark Increase 31,872 +2,541
 Kuwait Decrease 31,113 −4,494
 Senegal 30,828 +/−
 North Macedonia Increase 30,359 +4,456
 Micronesia 30,136 +/−
 Grenada Decrease 29,722 −11,288
 Latvia Decrease 23,300 −2,039
 Zimbabwe 20,519 +/−
 Norway Decrease 20,143 −4,928
  1. ^ Excluding Hong Kong, and, also Taiwan (Republic of China).
  2. ^ Including North Korea.
  3. ^ Including Crown Dependencies.
  4. ^ Including the Gaza Strip.
  5. ^ Metropolitan France only.
  6. ^ Excluding the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories.
  7. ^ Including the Golan Heights.
  8. ^ Including the West Bank.
  9. ^ European Netherlands only.
  10. ^ Excluding Western Sahara.

Effects of immigration

Main article: Effects of immigration to the United States

Mexican immigrants march for more rights in Northern California's largest city, San Jose (2006).
Mexican immigrants march for more rights in Northern California's largest city, San Jose (2006).

Immigration to the United States significantly increases the population. The Census Bureau estimates that the US population will increase from 317 million in 2014 to 417 million in 2060 with immigration, when nearly 20% will be foreign-born.[144] In particular, the population of Hispanic and Asian Americans is significantly increased by immigration, with both populations expected to see major growth.[145][146] Overall, the Pew Report predicts the population of the United States will rise from 296 million in 2005 to 441 million in 2065, but only to 338 million with no immigration.[145] The prevalence of immigrant segregation has brought into question the accuracy of describing the United States as a melting pot.[147][148] Immigration to the United States has also increased religious diversity, with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism growing in the United States due to immigration.[149] Changing demographics as a result of immigration have affected political affiliations. Immigrants are more likely than natives to support the Democratic Party.[48][150][151] Interest groups that lobby for and against immigration play a role in immigration policy, with religious, ethnic, and business groups most likely to lobby on issues of immigration.[152][153]

Immigrants have not been found to increase crime in the United States, and immigrants overall are associated with lower crime rates than natives.[10][11][12][154] Some research even suggests that increases in immigration may partly explain the reduction in the U.S. crime rate.[155][156] According to one study, sanctuary cities—which adopt policies designed to not prosecute people solely for being an illegal immigrant—have no statistically meaningful effect on crime.[157] Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in disproportionately high numbers of immigrants among crime suspects.[158][159][160][161] Research also suggests that there may be possible discrimination by the judicial system, which contributes to a higher number of convictions for immigrants.[162][163][164][165][166] Crimmigration has emerged as a field in which critical immigration scholars conceptualize the current immigration law enforcement system.[167]

Increased immigration to the United States has historically caused discrimination and racial unrest.[citation needed] Areas with higher minority populations may be subject to increased policing[158][159][168][161] and harsher sentencing.[162][163][164][165][166] Faculty in educational facilities have been found to be more responsive toward white students,[169] though affirmative action policies may cause colleges to favor minority applicants.[170] Evidence also shows the existence of racial discrimination in the housing market[171][172][173] and the labor market.[171][174][175] Discrimination also exists between different immigrant groups.[176][177] According to a 2018 study of longitudinal earnings, most immigrants economically assimilate into the United States within a span of 20 years, matching the economic situations of non-immigrants of similar race and ethnicity.[178]

Immigration has been found to have little impact on the health of natives.[179] Researchers have also found what is known as the "healthy immigrant effect", in which immigrants in general tend to be healthier than individuals born in the U.S.[180][181] However, some illnesses are believed to have been introduced to the United States or caused to increase by immigration.[182] Immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to have a medical visit labeled uncompensated care.[183]

A significant proportion of American scientists and engineers are immigrants. Graduate students are more likely to be immigrants than undergraduate students, as immigrants often complete undergraduate training in their native country before immigrating.[184] 33% of all U.S. Ph.D.s in science and engineering were awarded to foreign-born graduate students as of 2004.[185]

Economic effects

Garment factories in Manhattan's Chinatown
Garment factories in Manhattan's Chinatown

Further information: Economic impact of illegal immigrants in the United States and Immigration policies of American labor unions

High-skilled immigration and low-skilled immigration have both been found to make economic conditions better for the average immigrant[186] and the average American.[187][188] The overall impact of immigration on the economy tends to be minimal.[189][190] Research suggests that diversity has a net positive effect on productivity[191][192] and economic prosperity.[193][194][195] Contributions by immigrants through taxation and the economy have been found to exceed the cost of services they use.[196][197][198] Overall immigration has not had much effect on native wage inequality[199][200] but low-skill immigration has been linked to greater income inequality in the native population.[201] Labor unions have historically opposed immigration over economic concerns.[202]

Immigrants have also been found to raise economic productivity, as they are more likely to take jobs that natives are unwilling to do.[203] Research indicates that immigrants are more likely to work in risky jobs than U.S.-born workers, partly due to differences in average characteristics, such as immigrants' lower English language ability and educational attainment.[204] Refugees have been found to integrate more slowly into the labor market than other immigrants, but they have also been found to increase government revenue overall.[205][206][207] Immigration has also been correlated with increased innovation and entrepreneurship, and immigrants are more likely to start businesses than Native Americans.[208][209][210]

Undocumented immigrants have also been found to have a positive effect on economic conditions in the United States.[198][211][212] According to NPR in 2005, about 3% of illegal immigrants were working in agriculture,[213] and the H-2A visa allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.[214] States that imposed harsher immigration laws were found to suffer significant economic losses.[215][216]

Public opinion

The ambivalent feeling of Americans toward immigrants is shown by a positive attitude toward groups that have been visible for a century or more, and much more negative attitude toward recent arrivals. For example, a 1982 national poll by the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut showed respondents a card listing a number of groups and asked, "Thinking both of what they have contributed to this country and have gotten from this country, for each one tell me whether you think, on balance, they've been a good or a bad thing for this country", which produced the results shown in the table. "By high margins, Americans are telling pollsters it was a very good thing that Poles, Italians, and Jews immigrated to America. Once again, it's the newcomers who are viewed with suspicion. This time, it's the Mexicans, the Filipinos, and the people from the Caribbean who make Americans nervous."[217][218]

In a 2002 study, which took place soon after the September 11 attacks, 55% of Americans favored decreasing legal immigration, 27% favored keeping it at the same level, and 15% favored increasing it.[219]

In 2006, the immigration-reduction advocacy think tank the Center for Immigration Studies released a poll that found that 68% of Americans think U.S. immigration levels are too high, and just 2% said they are too low. They also found that 70% said they are less likely to vote for candidates that favor increasing legal immigration.[220] In 2004, 55% of Americans believed legal immigration should remain at the current level or increased and 41% said it should be decreased.[221] The less contact a native-born American has with immigrants, the more likely they would have a negative view of immigrants.[221]

One of the most important factors regarding public opinion about immigration is the level of unemployment; anti-immigrant sentiment is where unemployment is highest, and vice versa.[222]

Surveys indicate that the U.S. public consistently makes a sharp distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, and generally views those perceived as "playing by the rules" with more sympathy than immigrants who have entered the country illegally.[223]

According to a Gallup poll in July 2015, immigration is the fourth most important problem facing the United States and seven percent of Americans said it was the most important problem facing America today.[224] In March 2015, another Gallup poll provided insight into American public opinion on immigration; the poll revealed that 39% of people worried about immigration "a great deal".[225] A January poll showed that only 33% of Americans were satisfied with the current state of immigration in America.[226]

Before 2012, a majority of Americans supported securing United States borders compared to dealing with illegal immigrants in the United States. In 2013, that trend has reversed and 55% of people polled by Gallup revealed that they would choose "developing a plan to deal with immigrants who are currently in the U.S. illegally". Changes regarding border control are consistent across party lines, with the percentage of Republicans saying that "securing U.S. borders to halt flow of illegal immigrants" is extremely important decreasing from 68% in 2011 to 56% in 2014. Meanwhile, Democrats who chose extremely important shifted from 42% in 2011 to 31% in 2014.[227] In July 2013, 87% of Americans said they would vote in support of a law that would "allow immigrants already in the country to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements including paying taxes, having a criminal background check and learning English". However, in the same survey, 83% also said they would support the tightening of U.S. border security.[228]

Donald Trump's campaign for presidency focused on a rhetoric of reducing illegal immigration and toughening border security. In July 2015, 48% of Americans thought that Donald Trump would do a poor job of handling immigration problems. In November 2016, 55% of Trump's voters thought that he would do the right thing regarding illegal immigration. In general, Trump supporters are not united upon how to handle immigration. In December 2016, Trump voters were polled and 60% said that "undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who meet certain requirements should be allowed to stay legally".[229]

American opinion regarding how immigrants affect the country and how the government should respond to illegal immigration have changed over time. In 2006, out of all U.S. adults surveyed, 28% declared that they believed the growing number of immigrants helped American workers and 55% believed that it hurt American workers. In 2016, those views had changed, with 42% believing that they helped and 45% believing that they hurt.[230] The PRRI 2015 American Values Atlas showed that between 46% and 53% of Americans believed that "the growing number of newcomers from other countries ... strengthens American society". In the same year, between 57% and 66% of Americans chose that the U.S. should "allow [immigrants living in the U.S. illegally] a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements".[231]

In February 2017, the American Enterprise Institute released a report on recent surveys about immigration issues. In July 2016, 63% of Americans favored the temporary bans of immigrants from areas with high levels of terrorism and 53% said the U.S. should allow fewer refugees to enter the country. In November 2016, 55% of Americans were opposed to building a border wall with Mexico. Since 1994, Pew Research center has tracked a change from 63% of Americans saying that immigrants are a burden on the country to 27%.[232]

The Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy was reacted to negatively by the public. One of the main concerns was how detained children of illegal immigrants were treated. Due to very poor conditions, a campaign was begun called "Close the Camps".[233] Detainment facilities were compared to concentration and internment camps.[234][source verification needed]

After the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan in August 2021, an NPR/Ipsos poll (±4.6%) found 69% of Americans supported resettling in the United States Afghans who had worked with the U.S., with 65% support for Afghans who "fear repression or persecution from the Taliban".[235] There was lower support for other refugees: 59% for those "fleeing from civil strife and violence in Africa", 56% for those "fleeing from violence in Syria and Libya", and 56% for "Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty". 57% supported the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy, and 55% supported legalizing the status of those illegally brought to the U.S. as children (as proposed in the DREAM Act).

Religious responses

Religious figures in the United States have stated their views on the topic of immigration as informed by their religious traditions.

Legal issues

Main article: Immigration policy of the United States

A U.S. green card, a document confirming permanent resident status for eligible immigrants, including refugees, political asylum seekers, family-sponsored migrants, employment-based workers and diversity immigrants (DV).
A U.S. green card, a document confirming permanent resident status for eligible immigrants, including refugees, political asylum seekers, family-sponsored migrants, employment-based workers and diversity immigrants (DV).

Laws concerning immigration and naturalization include the Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT), the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), the Naturalization Act of 1790, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. AEDPA and IIRARA exemplify many categories of criminal activity for which immigrants, including green card holders, can be deported and have imposed mandatory detention for certain types of cases. The Johnson-Reed Act limited the number of immigrants and the Chinese Exclusion Act banned immigration from China altogether.[240][241]

Refugees are able to gain legal status in the United States through asylum, and a specified number of legally-defined refugees, who either apply for asylum overseas or after arriving in the U.S., are admitted annually.[quantify][citation needed] In 2014, the number of asylum seekers accepted into the U.S. was about 120,000. By comparison, about 31,000 were accepted in the UK and 13,500 in Canada.[242] Asylum offices in the United States receive more applications for asylum than they can process every month and every year, and these continuous applications cause a significant backlog.[243]

Removal proceedings are considered administrative proceedings under the authority of the United States Attorney General, and thus part of the executive branch rather than the judicial branch of government.[244] in removal proceedings in front of an immigration judge, cancellation of removal is a form of relief that is available for some long-time residents of the United States.[245] Eligibility may depend on time spent in the United States, criminal record, or family in the country.[246][247] Members of Congress may submit private bills granting residency to specific named individuals.[citation needed] The United States allows immigrant relatives of active duty military personnel to reside in the United States through a green card.[248][249]

As of 2015, there are estimated to be 11 to 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, making up about 5% of the civilian labor force.[250][251] Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, unauthorized immigrants that arrived as children were granted exemptions to immigration law.[252]

Most immigration proceedings are civil matters, though criminal charges are applicable when evading border enforcement, committing fraud to gain entry, or committing identity theft to gain employment. Due process protections under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution have been found to apply to immigration proceedings, but those of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution have not due to their nature as civil matters.[253][244]

Immigration in popular culture

A cartoon in Puck from 1888 attacked businessmen for welcoming large numbers of low-paid immigrants, leaving the American men unemployed.[254]
A cartoon in Puck from 1888 attacked businessmen for welcoming large numbers of low-paid immigrants, leaving the American men unemployed.[254]

The history of immigration to the United States is the history of the country itself, and the journey from beyond the sea is an element found in American folklore, appearing in many works, such as The Godfather, Gangs of New York, "The Song of Myself", Neil Diamond's "America", and the animated feature An American Tail.[255]

From the 1880s to the 1910s, vaudeville dominated the popular image of immigrants, with very popular caricature portrayals of ethnic groups. The specific features of these caricatures became widely accepted as accurate portrayals.[256]

In The Melting Pot (1908), playwright Israel Zangwill (1864–1926) explored issues that dominated Progressive Era debates about immigration policies. Zangwill's theme of the positive benefits of the American melting pot resonated widely in popular culture and literary and academic circles in the 20th century; his cultural symbolism – in which he situated immigration issues – likewise informed American cultural imagining of immigrants for decades, as exemplified by Hollywood films.[257][258]

The popular culture's image of ethnic celebrities often includes stereotypes about immigrant groups. For example, Frank Sinatra's public image as a superstar contained important elements of the American Dream while simultaneously incorporating stereotypes about Italian Americans that were based in nativist and Progressive responses to immigration.[259]

The process of assimilation has been a common theme of popular culture. For example, "lace-curtain Irish" refers to middle-class Irish Americans desiring assimilation into mainstream society in counterpoint to the older, more raffish "shanty Irish". The occasional malapropisms and social blunders of these upward mobiles were lampooned in vaudeville, popular song, and the comic strips of the day such as Bringing Up Father, starring Maggie and Jiggs, which ran in daily newspapers for 87 years (1913 to 2000).[260][261] In The Departed (2006), Staff Sergeant Dignam regularly points out the dichotomy between the lace-curtain Irish lifestyle Billy Costigan enjoyed with his mother, and the shanty Irish lifestyle of Costigan's father. In recent years,[when?] the popular culture has paid special attention to Mexican immigration;[262] the film Spanglish (2004) tells of a friendship of a Mexican housemaid (played by Paz Vega) and her boss (played by Adam Sandler).

Immigration in literature

Maggie and Jiggs from Bringing Up Father (January 7, 1940).
Maggie and Jiggs from Bringing Up Father (January 7, 1940).

Novelists and writers have captured much of the color and challenge in their immigrant lives through their writings.[263]

Regarding Irish women in the 19th century, there were numerous novels and short stories by Harvey O'Higgins, Peter McCorry, Bernard O'Reilly and Sarah Orne Jewett that emphasize emancipation from Old World controls, new opportunities and expansiveness of the immigrant experience.[264]

Hladnik studies three popular novels of the late 19th century that warned Slovenes not to immigrate to the dangerous new world of the United States.[265][needs context]

Jewish American writer Anzia Yezierska wrote her novel Bread Givers (1925) to explore such themes as Russian-Jewish immigration in the early 20th century, the tension between Old and New World Yiddish culture, and women's experience of immigration. A well established author Yezierska focused on the Jewish struggle to escape the ghetto and enter middle- and upper-class America. In the novel, the heroine, Sara Smolinsky, escapes from New York City's "down-town ghetto" by breaking tradition. She quits her job at the family store and soon becomes engaged to a rich real-estate magnate. She graduates college and takes a high-prestige job teaching public school. Finally Sara restores her broken links to family and religion.[266]

The Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, in the mid-20th century, wrote a series of four novels describing one Swedish family's migration from Småland to Minnesota in the late 19th century, a destiny shared by almost one million people. The author emphasizes the authenticity of the experiences as depicted (although he did change names).[267] These novels have been translated into English (The Emigrants, 1951, Unto a Good Land, 1954, The Settlers, 1961, The Last Letter Home, 1961). The musical Kristina från Duvemåla by ex-ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson is based on this story.[268][269]

The Immigrant is a musical by Steven Alper, Sarah Knapp, and Mark Harelik. The show is based on the story of Harelik's grandparents, Matleh and Haskell Harelik, who traveled to Galveston, Texas in 1909.[270]

Documentary films

Film about historical immigration to America from ca. 1970

In their documentary How Democracy Works Now: Twelve Stories, filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini examine the American political system through the lens of immigration reform from 2001 to 2007. Since the debut of the first five films, the series has become an important resource for advocates, policy-makers and educators.[271]

That film series premiered nearly a decade after the filmmakers' landmark documentary film Well-Founded Fear which provided a behind-the-scenes look at the process for seeking asylum in the United States. That film still marks the only time that a film-crew was privy to the private proceedings at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where individual asylum officers ponder the often life-or-death fate of immigrants seeking asylum.

In the documentary "Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller", it was argued that weapons smuggling from the United States contributed to insecurity in Latin America, itself triggering more migration to the United States.[272]

Overall approach to regulation

University of North Carolina law professor Hiroshi Motomura has identified three approaches the United States has taken to the legal status of immigrants in his book Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States. The first, dominant in the 19th century, treated immigrants as in transition; in other words, as prospective citizens. As soon as people declared their intention to become citizens, they received multiple low-cost benefits, including the eligibility for free homesteads in the Homestead Act of 1869,[clarification needed] and in many states, the right to vote. The goal was to make the country more attractive, so large numbers of farmers and skilled craftsmen would settle new lands. By the 1880s, a second approach took over, treating newcomers as "immigrants by contract". An implicit deal existed where immigrants who were literate and could earn their own living were permitted in restricted numbers. Once in the United States, they would have limited legal rights, but were not allowed to vote until they became citizens, and would not be eligible for the New Deal government benefits available in the 1930s. The third and more recent policy[when?] is "immigration by affiliation", which Motomura argues is the treatment which depends on how deeply rooted people have become in the country. An immigrant who applies for citizenship as soon as permitted, has a long history of working in the United States, and has significant family ties, is more deeply affiliated and can expect better treatment.[273]

The Statue of Liberty was a common sight to many immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island
The Statue of Liberty was a common sight to many immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island

The American Dream is the belief that through hard work and determination, any United States immigrant can achieve a better life, usually in terms of financial prosperity and enhanced personal freedom of choice.[274] According to historians, the rapid economic and industrial expansion of the U.S. is not simply a function of being a resource rich, hard working, and inventive country, but the belief that anybody could get a share of the country's wealth if he or she was willing to work hard.[275] This dream has been a major factor in attracting immigrants to the United States.[276]

See also


Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (September 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
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Further reading


Before 1920

Recent: post 1965


Immigration policy

Current immigration

Economic impact