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Immigration is the voluntary movement of people from one country to another. They usually move with the aim
of permanently settling in the adopted country. Another term, refugees, refers to people who have to flee their
homes and go to other countries because they are in serious danger. Often they are victims of war or are being
threatened because of their race, religion, or political beliefs.
Major Causes
In more modern times, people have tended to immigrate largely in search of better economic, social, and
political opportunities.
Choice and National Borders
Immigration usually involves the crossing of national borders. It is considered a voluntary act, one of personal
Ancient Colonists
Forms of immigration existed in ancient times. The Greeks were among the earliest colonists. They founded
settlements in Asia Minor, Sicily, and southern Italy at least 2,700 years ago. The Phoenicians were seafarers
and traders from what is now Lebanon. They also established themselves in the western Mediterranean region,
and elsewhere, at about this time. Their greatest settlement was in North Africa. It was aptly named Carthage, or
"new town."

Immigration to the United States

The United States has rightly been called a nation of immigrants. In the more than two hundred years of its
existence, it has taken in more than 69 million people. They have come from nearly every corner of the world.
Many were welcomed by a growing nation. But others were viewed with suspicion and hostility. All contributed
something to the United States. Many contributed a great deal.
The first colonists in what would become the United States arrived in the 1600s. Some were adventurers. They
sought to make their fortunes quickly in the New World. Others came to escape religious persecution. Or they
came to be free to worship as they pleased. Most of the settlers were ordinary people. They undertook the long,
dangerous sea voyage, attracted by plentiful land. They hoped to find better economic opportunities. Many of
the early colonists were too poor to pay for their passage. They arrived in America as indentured servants. As
such, they had to work a fixed number of years for the masters who had paid their way.
In 1820 the United States began to keep an accurate record of the number of immigrants arriving each year.
A Great Wave
The mid-1800s saw a great new wave of immigration. From 1845 to 1855, nearly 1.5 million Irish immigrants
arrived in the United States. They were fleeing poverty and the famine caused by successive failures of their
potato crops. During this same period, more than 1 million Germans came to America. They were escaping the
upheaval and political repression that followed the unsuccessful 1848 liberal revolution in Europe.
New European Immigrants
Up until the 1880s, most immigrants to the United States had come from western or northern Europe. Beginning
in about 1890, however, a second great wave of immigration began. More than 3.6 million people arrived
between 1891 and 1900, mainly from southern and eastern Europe -- including Italians, Slavs, Greeks, and
eastern European Jews. From 1901 to 1910, nearly 8.8 million more people arrived.
Asian Immigration
Few Asians arrived in the United States until the mid-1800s. They came in response to the growth of California
after the discovery of gold in 1848. And they came to build the transcontinental railroad. Japanese first arrived

in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most of the Japanese, as well as many Chinese, came as
contract workers. They worked on farms on the West Coast or on plantations in Hawaii. Filipinos came from
what was then the U.S. territory of the Philippines. These years also saw the arrival of emigrants from elsewhere
in Asia.
Problems of Adjustment
As strangers in a new land, many immigrants faced a difficult period of adjustment. Most tended to settle where
people from the same country were already established. Churches and clubs were often gathering places for
people of the same ethnic origin. The rapid growth of foreign-language newspapers helped non-Englishspeaking newcomers to understand American ways. Public schools, in particular, encouraged the children of
immigrants to adapt to American life.
Limiting Immigration
The first legislation restricting immigration of an ethnic group was aimed at the Chinese. They were first
welcomed as a source of cheap labor. But they later aroused hostility. People in the American West feared their
livelihoods were threatened by the lower wages paid to the Chinese. In 1882 the U.S. Congress passed the
Chinese Exclusion Act. The second group to be excluded was the Japanese. In 1907 the U.S. government
reached a "gentleman's agreement" with Japan. The agreement halted the flow of Japanese workers. In addition
to economic reasons, racial prejudice played a strong role in restricting Chinese and Japanese immigration.
The Quota System
In 1921, Congress passed the Quota Act. It limited yearly immigration from any country to 3 percent of the
number of people of that nationality living in the United States in 1910. The National Origins Act of 1929
changed the base year to 1920 and set an annual total of 150,000 immigrants.
After World War II, special laws allowed about 400,000 European refugees to enter the United States. Other
laws allowed political refugees to enter during the 1950s and 1960s. Some were fleeing Communism in Eastern
Europe. But most were refugees from the Communist regime in Cuba.
Re-opening the Golden Door
Many people wanted the law changed because of its prejudice against certain nationalities. Finally, in 1965,
Congress amended the law and abolished the national origins system. It set up a system of preferences for
immigration. It gave priority to refugees and people who had special skills. It also favored people who had close
relatives in the United States. Ceilings were set for a total of 290,000 immigrants. Spouses and children of U.S.
citizens were excluded from the total. Many Asian immigrants came in the 1960s and 1970s from Vietnam,
Cambodia, and Laos following wars in Southeast Asia. Between 1981 and 1990, more than 7.3 million
immigrants arrived. Nearly half were from the Americas. More than one-third were from Asia.
Illegal Aliens
Because the United States has set limits on immigration, many people have sought to enter illegally. People who
enter a country without permission from that country's government are called illegal aliens. In the late 1970s the
U.S. government reported that it was capturing over 1 million people a year who were attempting to enter the
country illegally. In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Its purpose was
to reduce the flow of illegal aliens. The law penalized employers who hired illegal aliens. It also offered
amnesty (freedom from prosecution) and legal status to those who could prove they entered the country before
1982. In 1990, Congress raised the ceiling for the number of immigrants allowed to enter each year to 675,000,
beginning in 1995.
Responding to continuing problems, in 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act. It raised the money available to the government to catch, detain, and deport illegal aliens.
In 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that changed U.S. immigration policy. It allowed
aliens who came to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country if certain requirements were
met. If they were successful students and were not criminals, they could have their deportation put off for two

years. Illegal aliens who served in the U.S. armed forces who met the same requirements could also stay an
extra two years.
The Newest Immigrants
The newest immigrants to the United States are chiefly Latin Americans and Asians. Most of the Latin
American immigrants have come from Mexico, which accounted for almost 30 percent of all immigrants in
2009. Many other Latin American immigrants came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and other Central American
countries. Immigrants have also come from the Caribbean, particularly the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 38.5 million foreign-born people living in the United States in
2009. This amounted to 12.5 percent of the population. Over half were born in Latin America and 28 percent in
More than half of the foreign-born people lived in just four statesCalifornia, New York, Texas, and Florida.
Recent Events
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States and other
countries began tightening their border security. They are concerned that foreign terrorists will enter unnoticed
among migrants and travelers. In the United States, an inability to control the flow of illegal aliens across the
U.S.-Mexico border has resulted in new policing measures. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed
legislation that provides for a 700-mile (1,125-kilometer) security fence to be built along the U.S.- Mexico
border to deter incoming illegal aliens.
The number of illegal aliens in the United States declined from 11.8 million in January 2008 to 10.8 million in
January 2009. More than 60 percent of the illegal aliens were from Mexico. The decline was attributed
primarily to the security fence and other improved policing methods. The economic recession in the United
States was another factor. Other reasons for the drop in the number of illegal aliens included the rise in
deportations and the decline in Mexican birthrates. In 2012 it was reported that the number of Mexicans
immigrating to the United Stateslegal and illegalwas no longer rising.
David M. Reimers
New York University

Reimers, David M. "Immigration." The New Book of Knowledge. Grolier Online, 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.