Skip to main content
Select Source:



Roger Daniels

Immigration and immigration policy have been an integral part of the American polity since the early years of the American Republic. Until late in the nineteenth century it had been the aim of American policy, and thus its diplomacy, to facilitate the entrance of free immigrants. From the 1880s until World War IIan era of immigration restriction of increasing severitythe diplomacy of immigration was chiefly concerned with the consequences of keeping some people out and, after 1924, when Congress made the diplomatic establishment partially responsible for immigration selection and its control, with keeping some prospective immigrants out. Since 1945, after only seemingly minor changes in policy during World War II, and partly due to the shift in American foreign policy from quasi-isolation to a quest for global leadership and hegemony, immigration policy has become less and less restrictive. Cold War imperatives plus a growing tendency toward more egalitarian attitudes about ethnic and racial minorities contributed to a change in immigration policy.

Many foreigners clearly understood that there were certain ironies in these long-term changes. No one was more aware of this than the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Visiting Washington in 1979 during a time when the United States was urging the Soviet Union to allow more Jews to emigrate, the Chinese leader, according to Jimmy Carter's memoirs, told the American president: "If you want me to release ten million Chinese to come to the United States I'd be glad to do that." Obviously, Deng was "pulling Carter's chain," but it is not clear from the text whether the Georgian realized that. Immigration was part of the raison d'être of the early Republic. One of the complaints in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was that George III had "endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands." The Constitution, while not mentioning immigration directly, did instruct Congress "to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization" (Article 1, Section 8) and provided that naturalized persons might hold any office under the Constitution save only President and Vice President. (Article 2, Section 1). The only other reference to migration referred obliquely to the African slave trade, providing that "the Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight" (Article 1, Section 9).

In 1790 Congress passed the first naturalization act, limiting those eligible to "free white persons." This put the new nation on a collision course with Great Britain, which, although it had naturalization statutes of its own, often refused to recognize the switch of allegiance of its subjects. The question of the impressment of seamen was one of the issues that troubled Anglo-American relations from 1787, when the first of many American protests against impressment was made, until the end of the War of 1812. Foreign Secretary George Canning put the British case nicely when he declared that when British seamen "are employed in the private service of foreigners, they enter into engagements inconsistent with the duty of subjects. In such cases, the species of redress which the practice of all times has sanctioned is that of taking those subjects at sea out of the service of such foreign individuals." Impressment, of course, became one of the issues that led to the War of 1812. After that the British recognized, in practice, the right of naturalization, but one of the ongoing tasks of American diplomatic officials has been trying to ensure that naturalized American citizens are recognized as such when they visit their former native lands. This has been particularly a problem for men of military age during time of war.

While barring the African slave trade at the earliest possible moment in 1808, immigration "policy" in the new nation universally welcomed free immigrants. American leaders understood that immigration was necessary to fill up their largely empty and expanding country and would have endorsed the nineteenth-century Argentine statesman Juan Bautista Alberdi's maxim that "to govern is to populate." Even Millard Fillmore, while running for president on the nativist American Party ticket in 1856, found it necessary to insist that he had "no hostility to foreigners" and "would open wide the gates and invite the oppressed of every land to our happy country, excluding only the pauper and the criminal." Actually the gates were open, and Fillmore's suggestion of restriction on economic grounds would not become law until 1882. As long as American immigration policy welcomed all free immigrants there were no policy issues for American diplomats to negotiate. Immigration first became a special subject for diplomatic negotiation during the long run-up to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

A few Chinese had come to the United Stateschiefly to East Coast portsin the late eighteenth century in connection with the China trade. After American missionaries were established in China, some Chinese, mostly young men, came to the eastern United States for education without raising any stir. But relatively large-scale Chinese immigration, mostly to California beginning with the gold rush of 1849, produced an anti-Chinese movement. Before this movement became a national concern, Secretary of State William H. Seward appointed a former Massachusetts congressman, Anson Burlingame, as minister to China in 1861. He was the first to reside in Beijing. A radical former free-soiler and antislavery orator, Burlingame supported Chinese desires for equal treatment by the Western powers. While still in Beijing, he resigned his post in late 1867 and accepted a commission as China's first official envoy to the West. With an entourage that included two Chinese co-envoys and a large staff, he traveled to Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States seeking modification of China's unequal status. He was successful only in Washington. There he negotiated in 1868 what became known as the Burlingame Treatyactually articles added to the Treaty of Tientsin (1858). The 1868 agreement, China's first equal treaty, was ratified without controversy and contained the first immigration clause in any American treaty:

The United States and the Emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance and also the mutual advantage of free migration and emigration for the purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents but nothing contained herein shall be held to confer naturalization upon the citizens of the United States in China, nor upon the subjects of China in the United States.

The United States would never again recognize a universal "right to immigrate," and by 1870 the anti-Chinese movement was becoming national. Spurred by economic distress in California and a few instances of Chinese being used as strikebreakers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, anti-Chinese forces stemming largely from the labor movement made increasingly powerful demands for an end to Chinese immigration, usually blending their economic arguments with naked racism. That summer Congress was legislating the changes in the existing naturalization statute impelled by the end of slavery and the Fourteenth Amendment. Republican Senator Charles Sumner and a few other radicals wanted to make the new naturalization statute color blind, but the majority did not wish to extend that fundamental right to Chinese. The new statute amended the eligibility from "free white persons" to "white persons and to aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent."

In 1876 Congress created a joint congressional committee to investigate Chinese immigration. It took testimony in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco just before and after that year's presidential election. By that time both national party platforms had anti-Chinese planks. The Republican version was somewhat tentative, declaring it "the immediate duty of Congress to investigate the effects of the immigration and importation of Mongolians." The out-of-power Democrats denounced "the policy which tolerates the revival of the coolie-trade in Mongolian women held for immoral purposes, and Mongolian men to perform servile labor." The majority report of the joint congressional committee claimed that the Pacific Coast had to become "either American or Mongolian," insisting that there was "not sufficient brain capacity in the Chinese race to furnish motive power for self-government" and that "there is no Aryan or European race which is not far superior to the Chinese." The committee report urged the president to get the Burlingame Treaty modified and Congress to legislate against "Asiatic immigration." The report was presented to Congress while it was settling the election of 1876, so no immediate action was taken. After much debate the next Congress passed the so-called Fifteen Passenger bill, which barred any vessel from bringing in more than fifteen Chinese immigrants. The sticking point for many was the existing Burlingame Treaty: some wanted to over-ride it completely while others wanted to wait until the treaty was revised. The bill also instructed the president to notify the Chinese that portions of the treaty were abrogated, which passage of the bill would have accomplished.

Rutherford B. Hayes responded with a reasoned veto message that accepted the desirability of stemming Chinese immigration. He argued that the Chinese manifested "all the traits of race, religion, manners, and customs, habitations, mode of life, segregation here, and the keeping up of the ties of their original home [which] stamp them as strangers and sojourners, and not as incorporated elements of our national life." But, he insisted, there was no emergency to justify unilateral abrogation of the treaty, which could have disastrous consequences for American merchants and missionaries in China. He promised that there would be a renegotiation of the treaty.

A somewhat protracted diplomatic renegotiation was completed by the end of 1880, and the new treaty was ratified and proclaimed in October 1881. It unilaterally gave the United States the right to "regulate, limit, or suspend" the "coming or residence" of Chinese laborers, but it allowed Chinese subjects "proceeding to the United States as teachers, students, merchants, or from curiosity, together with their body and household servants, and Chinese laborers now in the United States to go and come of their own free will and accord."

In the spring of 1882, Congress passed a bill suspending the immigration of Chinese laborers for twenty years. President Chester A. Arthur vetoed it, arguing that while a permanent bar to Chinese labor might be eventually justified, prudence dictated a shorter initial term. Congress responded by repassing the bill but with a ten-year suspension, and Arthur signed it into law in May 1882. The law prohibited the entry of Chinese laborersdefined as "both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining"after 4 August 1882. It also provided that any Chinese who was in the country on 17 November 1880the effective date of the Sino-American treatyor had come between that date and 4 August 1882 had the right to leave and return. The law, as opposed to the treaty, did not spell out who was entitled to enter, although it did specify that diplomats and other officials of the Chinese government doing government business, along with their body and household servants, were admissible. Fines for bringing Chinese in illegally could run as high as $1,000 per individual, and vessels landing Chinese illegally were liable to seizure and condemnation.

Thus, what is commonly called the Chinese Exclusion Actits proper title is "To Execute Certain Treaty Stipulations Relating to Chinese"became law. The typical textbook treatment is a sentence or two, sometimes relating it to other discriminatory treatment. Its real significance goes much deeper than that. Viewed from the perspective of the early twenty-first century, the Exclusion Act is clearly a pivot on which subsequent American immigration policy turned, the hinge on which the poet Emma Lazarus's "Golden Door" began to swing toward a closed position. It initiated what can be called an era of steadily increasing restrictions on immigration of all kinds that would last for sixty-one years. It was also the first time that immigration policy per se became a focal point of a bilateral diplomatic relationship between the United States and another nation.

During the exclusion era18821943the problematic enforcement of changing immigration statutes and regulations for Chinese created future diplomatic problems, brought the principle of family reunification into American immigration policy, shaped the culture of immigration enforcement in the United States, and established a precedent for negotiations about American immigration policies. Various changes, generally of a more restrictive character, were added to the Chinese exclusion laws and regulations between 1882 and 1902, when a modified law extended them "until otherwise provided by law." These changes exacerbated relations and triggered repeated negotiations between the two nations.

The most significant of these negotiations occurred in the aftermath of the Geary Act of 1892, which not only extended exclusion for ten years but also required that all Chinese in the United States get a residence certificate (a kind of internal passport) within a year or be deported. The statute also reversed the usual presumption of innocence and provided that "any Chinese person or person of Chinese descent" was deemed to be in the country illegally unless he or she could demonstrate otherwise. This set off a mass civil disobedience campaign orchestrated by Chinese-American community organizations. They urged Chinese Americans not to register and hired a trio of leading constitutional lawyers to challenge the statute. Their suit, Fong Yue Ting v. United States (1893), was expedited to the Supreme Court, which quickly ruled, five to three, against Fong and two other litigants. Justice Horace Gray, writing for the majority, held that Chinese, like other resident aliens, were entitled "to the safeguards of the Constitution, and to the protection of the laws, in regard to their rights of persons and of property, and to their civil and criminal responsibility," but insisted that the Constitution could not shield them if Congress decided that "their removal is necessary or expedient for the public interest."

At the time of the Court's ruling only some 13,000 Chinese had registered; perhaps 90,000 had not and were presumably liable to immediate deportation. But both cabinet officers responsible for enforcementTreasury Secretary John G. Carlisle and Attorney General Richard Olneyinstructed their subordinates not to enforce the law. Carlisle estimated that mass deportations would cost at least $7.3 million and noted that his annual enforcement budget was $25,000. Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham confidentially informed the Chinese minister, Yung Yu, that Congress would soon amend the law so that Chinese could register even though the deadline had passed. In November 1893, Congress extended the deadline by six months, and in that time about 93,000 additional Chinese registered and received the disputed certificates.

While relations between China and the United States were complicated by actions of the federal government toward immigrants, those between Italy and the United States deteriorated because of discrimination by lesser governmental bodies. There was widespread violence directed against Italian Americans, but one outbreak in particular had the most serious international consequences. On 15 October 1890 the police superintendent in New Orleans was murdered by a group of men using sawed-off shotguns; before he died he whispered that the Italians had done it. He had been investigating so-called Mafia influence among the city's large Italian-American population. New Orleans authorities quickly arrested almost 250 local Italian Americans and eventually indicted nineteen of them, including one fourteen-year-old boy, for the murder. Nine were brought to trial. On 13 March 1891 the jury found six not guilty and could not agree on three others. All nine were returned to jail for trial on another charge. The day after the verdict, a notice signed by sixty-one prominent local residents was placed in the morning newspaper inviting "all good citizens" to a 10 a.m. mass meeting "to remedy the failure of justice." A mob of perhaps 5,000 persons assembled, and, led by three members of the local bar, went first to the arsenal where many were issued firearms and then to the parish prison, where they shot and killed eight incarcerated Italians and removed three others and lynched them. Three or four of the victims were Italian citizens and the others were naturalized American citizens. None of the mob was ever punished.

Local public opinion hailed the result, as did much of the nation's press. The New York Times wrote that the victims were "sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins" but insisted in the same editorial that the lynching "was not incited by any prejudice against Italians." The Italian government protested, demanding punishment for the lynchers, protection for the Italian Americans of New Orleans, and an indemnity. President Benjamin Harrison himself, acting during an illness of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, directed the American minister in Rome to explain "the embarrassing gap in federalismthat in such cases the state alone has jurisdiction," while rejecting all the demands. There was nothing new about this. Similar responses had been made by the federal government in a number of previous instances, most notably in 1851 when Spaniards had been killed in New Orleans; in 1885 after the Rock Springs, Wyoming, massacre of twenty-eight Chinese miners; and in a whole host of other outrages, mostly against Chinese in the Far West. In all of these cases the president eventually called upon Congress to make an ex gratia payment. Congress, after debate, did so, and the matters were ended. For the Rock Springs affair, for example, the payment was nearly $150,000.

The lynching of Italians in New Orleans took a somewhat different course to the same essential result. Exasperated by the initial stonewalling, the Italian government recalled its minister in Washington but did not break relations. There was foolish talk of war in the pressall agreed that the Italian navy was superior to the Americanand naval preparedness advocates used the speculation to their advantage. Eventually good relations were restored, but Harrison settled the matter without the traditional reference to Congress. In his December 1892 message to Congress Harrison reported the payment of $24,330.90 (125,000 francs) to the Italian government, a little over $6,000 per person. The money was taken from the general appropriation for diplomatic expenses. Congress was furiousor pretended to bebecause of executive usurpation of its prerogatives and reduced the fund for diplomatic contingencies by $20,000.

A more complex and potentially more serious situation developed from the mistreatment of Japanese in the United Statesmore serious because of the growing hostility between the United States and Japan over conflicting plans for Pacific expansion and more complex because both local and national discrimination was involved and because major tensions about Japanese immigrants continued for more than two decades. Long before diplomatic tensions over Japanese immigration to western states and the Territory of Hawaii surfaced, Tokyo had shown concern about possible mistreatment of its immigrants in America. As early as the 1890s internal Japanese diplomatic correspondence shows that there were fears in Tokyo that emigrant Japanese workers in the United States, who in many places were filling niches once occupied by Chinese workers, would eventually evoke the same kinds of official treatmentexclusionthat Chinese workers had experienced. This, Japanese officials were convinced, would negatively affect Japan's ambitions to achieve great-power status. The greatest fearTokyo's worst nightmare about this subjectwas that someday there would be a "Japanese Exclusion Act." This fearand eventually resentment at the result, which was in effect exclusionso pervaded Japanese culture that for decades Japanese texts continued to refer to the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 as the "Japanese Exclusion Act."

Anti-Japanese activity had flared in race-sensitive California as early as 1892, when there were fewer than 5,000 Japanese persons in the entire country. In 1905 the state's leading newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, began what can be called an anti-Japanese immigrant crusadea crusade that the rival publisher William Randolph Hearst soon made his own. In the same year San Francisco labor leaders organized the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League, the California legislature passed a resolution calling on Congress to "limit and diminish Japanese immigration," and two California congressmen introduced the first bills calling for exclusion of Japanese into Congress.

Although these events all took place beneath the radar of national press consciousness, they did not escape the notice of the man in the White House. In May 1905, Theodore Roosevelt fumed in a (private) letter about the "foolish offensiveness" of the [mostly Republican] "idiots" of the California legislature, while indicating sympathy for the notion of exclusion of Japanese and muttering about their being "a serious problem in Hawaii." Two months later he instructed the U.S. Minister to Japan, Lloyd C. Griscom, to inform Tokyo that "the American Government and people" had no sympathy with the agitation and that while "I am President" Japanese would be treated like "other civilized peoples." In his prolix annual message of December 1905, Roosevelt insisted that there should be no discrimination "against any man" who wished to immigrate and be a good citizen, and he specifically included Japanese in a short list of examples of acceptable ethnic groups. In the next paragraph, Roosevelt, who had signed the 1902 extension of Chinese exclusion without hesitation, made it clear that Chinese laborers, "skilled and unskilled," were not acceptable.

Almost a year later, on 11 October 1906, the San Francisco Board of Education ordered all Japanese and Korean pupils to attend the long established "Oriental" school in Chinatown. The announcement attracted little attention in the San Francisco press and seems to have been ignored outside California until nine days later, when garbled reports of what had happened were printed in Tokyo newspapers claiming that all Japanese pupils had been excluded from the public schools. Roosevelt reacted quickly. He wrote his high-ranking Harvard classmate Baron Kentaro Kaneko that he would take action; he also met with and gave similar assurances to the Japanese minister, Viscount Siuzo Aoki, and dispatched a cabinet member and former California congressman, Secretary of Commerce and Labor Victor H. Metcalf, to San Francisco to investigate the matter. In his December 1906 annual message the president formally recommended legislation "providing for the naturalization of Japanese who come here intending to become American citizens." Roosevelt made no serious effort to get such legislation introduced, let alone passed, and just two months later Secretary of State Elihu Root, in reacting to a Japanese proposal that acceptance of exclusion be traded for naturalization, informed American negotiators that "no statute could be passed or treaty ratified" that granted naturalization.

Secretary Metcalf's report was made public on 18 December 1906 and showed that rather than the hundreds or thousands of Japanese pupils discussed in the press there were only ninety-five Japanese students in the entire San Francisco school system, twenty-five of them native-born American citizens. He did find that twenty-seven of the aliens were teenagers enrolled in inappropriate grades because of language problems; the most extreme example was two nineteen-year-olds in the fourth grade. Metcalf's report recommended that age-grade limits be enforced, something that was acceptable to the Japanese community. Otherwise Metcalf found the segregation order unjust and against the public interest. But since the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) had affirmed the legality of racial segregation in the United States, the federal government had no power over a state's right to practice it. California politicians of all parties, undoubtedly representing the will of their constituents, adamantly refused to mitigate their discrimination in any way, and, in the session of the legislature that began in January 1907, proposed enacting more anti-Japanese legislation. Roosevelt and Root set to work to ameliorate the situation, and, in something over a year, worked out a solution that is known as the Gentlemen's Agreement, the substance of which is contained in six notes exchanged between the two governments in late 1907 and early 1908. It is instructive to note that Root actually instituted an action in the northern federal district court of California to prohibit segregation of alien Japanese school-children, who enjoyed most-favored-nation rights under the existing commercial treaty with Japan, but could do nothing for the pupils who were American citizens.

In the event, no suit was necessary. Roosevelt summoned members of the school board to Washington, jawboned them in the White House, and got them to rescind their order in February 1907. (The only Japanese pupils actually segregated in California were in a few rural districts around Sacramento. Although that segregation continued, no fuss was made about it, so the Japanese government, which was concerned with "face" rather than principle, never complained.) Then Congress passed an amendment, drafted in the State Department, to a pending immigration bill, which enabled the president to bar by executive order persons with passports issued for any country other than the United States from entering the country. Japan, in turn, agreed to mark any passports issued to laborers, skilled or unskilled, who had not previously established American residence, as not valid for the United States. But the eventual agreement allowed Japan to issue passports valid for the United States to "laborers who have already been in America and to the parents, wives and children of laborers already resident there." Thus the principle of family reunification, which would become a hallmark of American immigration policy, was first introduced as a part of the process of restricting Asian immigration.

The Gentlemen's Agreement is an excellent example of the "unintended consequences" that have characterized much of the legal side of American immigration history. The diplomats and politicians involved assumed that with labor immigration at an end the Japanese American population would decline and the problems that its presence created in a white-dominated racist society would gradually fade away. They did not realize that through the family reunification provisions of the agreement tens of thousands of Japanese men would bring wives to California. Many if not most of these were "picture brides," women married by proxy in Japan to men who in most instances they would not see until they came to America. Most of these newly married couples soon had children who were American citizens by virtue of being born on American soil, which meant that the American Japanese population grew steadily. Eventually the anti-Japanese forces in the United States campaigned without success for a constitutional amendment that would repeal the "birthright citizenship" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and make the children of "aliens ineligible to citizenship" similarly ineligible. (In the 1970s nativist forces in the United States revived such demands but with a different target: they proposed making the American-born children of illegal immigrants ineligible for automatic citizenship.) When the Gentlemen's Agreement went into effect there were probably some 60,000 Japanese persons in the continental United States, the vast majority of them aliens. By 1940 there were more than 125,000, more than two-thirds of them native-born American citizens. Many white Californians and other concerned westerners who had been assured that the Gentlemen's Agreement was tantamount to exclusion came to believe that they had been betrayed by the uncaring politicians back east.

But even before the demographic consequences of the Gentlemen's Agreement became clear, a second crisis arose over Japanese immigrants. This one erupted in 1913 and focused on land rather than on people. Although most Japanese immigrants had come to California as laborers, many soon were able to become agricultural proprietors. As early as 1909 bills had been introduced into the California legislature barring the sale of agricultural land to Japanese, but Republican governors then and in 1911the California legislature met only every other yearcooperated with Republican presidents in Washington and "sat upon the lid," as Governor Hiram W. Johnson put it. But in 1913, with Johnson still governor and Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the White House, the lid was off. Although Washington was again taken unawares by the crisis, Tokyo had been expecting it. Its consul general in San Francisco had warned in November 1912 that "the fear-laden anti-Japanese emotion of the people [of California] is a sleeping lion." By the time Wilson took office on 4 March 1913, bills restricting Japanese and other alien landholding had made considerable progress in the California legislature. The Japanese ambassador, Sutemi Chinda, called on the president during Wilson's second day in office: his dispatch to Tokyo quoted Wilson as saying "that the constitution did not allow the federal government to intervene in matters relating to the rights of the individual states." After much debate and publicity, in mid-April the California legislature passed legislation forbidding the ownership of agricultural land by "aliens ineligible to citizenship." This, of course, pointed the bill at Japanese, although it also affected other Asians. Californians argued that the discriminationif such it waswas caused by federal rather than state law.

Even before Governor Johnson signed the bill, angry anti-American demonstrations erupted in Tokyo: the California legislature had again helped to create an international crisis. The Wilson administration, while trying to adhere to traditional states' rights doctrines, nevertheless felt that it had to at least seem to be taking action. Wilson sent Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on a cross-country train trip to Sacramento to meet with Governor Johnson and the legislature and urged that the bill not be enacted before Bryan arrived. In the event, Bryan's trip was anti-climactic. Unlike Roosevelt and Root, Wilson and Bryan had nothing to offer the Californians in return for moderation. Bryan returned to Washington, and Johnson signed the Alien Land Act into law: eventually ten other western states passed similar measures.

The California law, which was strengthened in 1920, was relatively ineffective. Japanese farmers and the white entrepreneurs with whom they dealt evaded the law in a number of ways, most of which had been foreseen by Johnson and his advisers. The two major methods were placing land in the name of citizen children or leasing rather than purchasing the land. For a few relatively large-scale operators adoption of a corporate form was also effective. When the California legislature passed an amendment to the land act barring "aliens ineligible to citizenship" from exercising guardianship over their citizen children, the federal courts ruled that such a statute violated the constitutional rights of those children to have their natural parents as guardians.

These disputes, of course, helped to poison relations between Japan and the United States, which were already problematic on other grounds. During the Versailles treaty negotiations and in early sessions of the League of Nations, Japan tried to get questions of immigration and racial equality discussed but the imperialist powers successfully stifled every attempt. (Of course Japan did not have clean hands in such matters, but that is another story.) The final and most traumatic act in the conflicts between the Pacific powers over immigration came in 1924 and involved federal rather than state discrimination.

By the 1920s the American people and the Congress were ready for a general and massive curtailment of immigration. Prior to that time statutory immigration restriction based on race or national origin had been directed only at Asians. The Immigration Act of 1917best known for imposing a literacy test on some immigrantshad created a "barred zone" expressed in degrees of latitude and longitude, which halted the immigration of most Asians not previously excluded or limited. The first statute to limit most immigration, the Quota Act of 1921, placed numerical limits on European immigration while leaving immigration from the Western Hemisphere largely alone; it did not directly impact Japanese immigration, which was still governed by the Gentlemen's Agreement of 19071908. Under the 1921 act Japan got a small quota, and Tokyo could not and did not complain that the law was discriminatory. Had Japan been treated as European nations were in the 1924 statute, it would have received the minimum quota of 100, but the version of the more generally restrictive 1924 law that passed the House contained overt discrimination against Japanese by forbidding the immigration of "aliens ineligible to citizenship." In an ill-starred attempt to preserve the Gentlemen's Agreement, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes suggested verbally that Japanese Ambassador Masanao Hanihara write him a letter explaining the Gentlemen's Agreement, whereupon the American would transmit the letter to the Senate in an attempt to get the offending phrase removed. The note, which was not in itself either threatening or blustering, did contain the phrase "grave consequences" in referring to what might happen if the law were enacted with the offending phrase. Henry Cabot Lodge and other senators insisted that the phrase was a "veiled threat" against the United States and stampeded the Senate into accepting the House language. In The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge (1998), the historian Robert H. Ferrell presented evidence suggesting that Hughes and others in the State Department either drafted or helped to draft the original note, something that all those concerned categorically denied at the time and later.

How grave were the actual consequences? No one can say. Japan and the United States might well have engaged in what became a "war without mercy" even if no Japanese immigrant had ever come to America. But some authorities, such as George F. Kennan, have argued that the "long and unhappy story" of U.S.Japanese relations were negatively affected by the fact that "we would repeatedly irritate and offend the sensitive Japanese by our immigration policies and the treatment of people of Japanese lineage."

The 1924 act, which established a pattern of immigration restriction that prevailed until 1965, also established a "consular control system" by providing that aliens subject to immigration control could not be admitted to the United States without a valid visa issued by an American consular officer abroad. Visas were first required as a wartime measure in a 1918 act and were continued in peacetime by a 1921 act, but they were primarily an identification device. The 1924 act for the first time made the visa a major factor in immigration control. Although the State Department often claimed that Congress had tied the government's hands, the fact of the matter is that since 1924 much actual restriction of immigration has been based on the judgment of the individual federal officials administering it. That responsibility has been shared between the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), then in the Department of Labor but switched to the Department of Justice in 1940. The diplomatic control is exercised by granting or failing to grant visas; the INS control is exercised largely at the borders, although since 1925 some INS personnel have been attached to some American embassies abroad as technical advisers. (The number of foreign countries with INS personnel has fluctuated. At the outset of the twenty-first century they were operating in thirty-eight countries. In Canada and a few other places, mostly in the Western Hemisphere, it has become possible to clear U.S. immigration and customs while still on foreign soil.)

The American foreign servicewhich was white, Christian (overwhelmingly Protestant), and elitisthad long exercised a largely negative influence on American immigration policy. Consular reports had provided much ammunition for the immigration restriction movement since the late nineteenth century. The tenure of Wilbur J. Carr as, in effect, head of the consular service from 1909 to 1937, placed a determined and convinced anti-Semitic nativist in a position to shape the formulation of both immigration and refugee policy. We now know that Carr, a skilled and manipulative bureaucrat, regularly fed anti-immigrant excerpts from unpublished consular reports to restrictionists such as Representative Albert Johnson, chief author of the 1924 immigration act. One Carr memo to him described Polish and Russian Jews as "filthy, Un-American and often dangerous in their habits." Many American consuls shared these views. Richard C. Beer, for example, a career officer serving in Budapest in 19221923, complained that the law forced him to give visas to Hungarians, Gypsies, and Jews who were all barbarians and gave his office an odor that "no zoo in the world can equal." Other consular officials, who might not have held such views, took their cues from their chief and the whole tone of the foreign service. During what was left of the "prosperity decade" after 1924 the INS and the State Department were pretty much on the same nativist page, although some INS officials resented their loss of control.

Although there were no statutory limits on immigration from independent nations of the Western Hemisphere until 1965, President Herbert Hoover administratively limited Mexican and other Latin American immigration by use of the highly subjective "likely to become a public charge" clause that had been on the statute books since 1882. The clause had originally been designed to keep out persons who for reasons of physical or mental disability were patently unable to support themselves. From the Hoover administration on, the clause has been interpreted at times to bar persons who were able-bodied but poor. The prospective immigrant could be stopped at the border or at an immigrant receiving station by INS personnel or could have a visa denied by someone in the diplomatic service in the country of origin.

The onset of the Great Depression temporarily reduced immigration pressuresduring two years in the early 1930s more immigrants left the United States than entered itbut an entirely different situation developed after the Nazi seizure of power in Germany. The unprecedented situation of large numbers of refugees and would-be refugees stemming from a western European power had not been foreseen by the drafters of American immigration legislation. The United States had an immigration policy but not a refugee policy. Congress had previously been favorable to political and religious refugees. Restrictive immigration acts dating from the nineteenth century barred persons with criminal records but always specifically excluded those convicted of political offenses. As late as 1917, in the part of a statute imposing a not very strenuous literacy test as a criterion for admission, Congress specifically exempted any person seeking admission "to avoid religious persecution."

By 1933, however, under the stresses of the Great Depression and after going through what John Higham has aptly termed the "tribal twenties," Congress was in no mood to ease immigration restrictions. And although some of the later apologists for the lack of an effective American refugee policy before the onset of the Holocaust put all or most of the onus on Congress, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt must share that blame. There was nothing even resembling a new deal for immigration policy. To be sure, New Dealers at the top of Frances Perkins's Department of Labor, which continued to administer the INS until 1940, were much more sympathetic to immigrant concerns than the labor movement bureaucrats who had previously run the department. But the anti-immigrant culture of the INS continued. Moreover, the State Department's personnel and policies about immigration and many other matters were little affected by the New Deal. The administrative regulation of immigration was tightened during the early years of the Depression by both sets of government agents: the consular officials abroad and the INS at the borders.

Jews and others seeking visas in the 1930s quickly learned that some American consuls were better than others. George S. Messersmith, consul general in Berlin in the early 1930s and minister to Austria before the Anschluss, at a time when the German quota was undersubscribed, gained a positive rating from Jewish individuals and organizations. Even more proactive for refugees was Messersmith's successor in Berlin, Raymond Geist, who on occasion actually went to concentration camps to arrange the release of Jews with American visas. Although there is no thorough study of the work of American consular officials in Europe during the period between 1933 and Pearl Harbor, it is clear that men like Messersmith and Geist were exceptions and that the majority of consuls were indifferent if not hostile to Jews desiring American visas. The signals consuls received from Carr and other officials in the State Department certainly encouraged them to interpret the law as narrowly as possible.

For example, when Herbert Lehman, Franklin Roosevelt's successor as governor of New York, wrote the president on two occasions in 1935 and 1936 about the difficulties German Jews were having in getting visas from American consulates, Roosevelt assured him, in responses drafted by the State Department, that consular officials were carrying out their duties "in a considerate and humane manner." Irrefutable evidence exists in a number of places to demonstrate that, to the contrary, many officials of the Department of State at home and abroad consistently made it difficult and in many cases impossible for fully eligible refugees to obtain visas. One example will have to stand as surrogate for hundreds of demonstrable cases of consular misfeasance and malfeasance. Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Cincinnati, the oldest Jewish seminary in America, had a Refugee Scholars Project that between 1935 and 1942 brought eleven such scholars to its campus. The 1924 immigration act specifically exempted from quota restriction professors and ministers of any religion as well as their wives and minor children. There should have been no difficulties on the American end in bringing the chosen scholars to Cincinnati. But in almost every case the State Department and especially Avra M. Warren, head of the visa division, raised difficulties, some of which seem to have been invented. In some instances the college, often helped by the intervention of influential individuals, managed to overcome them. In two instances, however, the college was unsuccessful.

The men involved were Arthur Spanier and Albert Lewkowitz. Spanier had been the Hebraica librarian at the Prussian State Library, and after the Nazis dismissed him, a teacher at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. After Kristallnacht in November 1938, Spanier was sent to a concentration camp. The guaranteed offer of an appointment was enough to get him released from the camp but not enough to get him an American visa. The president of Hebrew Union College had to go to Washington even to discover why this was the case. Warren explained that the rejection was because Spanier's principal occupation was as a librarian and because after 1934 the Nazis had demoted the Hochschule (a general term for a place of higher education) to a Lehranstalt (educational institute), and an administrative regulation of the State Department not found in the statute held that a nonquota visa could not be given to a scholar coming to a high status institute in the United States from one of lower status abroad. Lewkowitz, a teacher of philosophy at the Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary, did get an American visa in Germany. Both men were able to get to the Netherlands and were there when the Germans invaded. The German bombing of Rotterdam destroyed Lewkowitz's papers, and American consular officials there insisted that he get new documents from Germany, an obviously impossible requirement. Visaless, both men were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Lewkowitz was one of the few concentration camp inmates exchanged, and he reached Palestine in 1944. Spanier was murdered in Bergen-Belsen. If highly qualified scholars with impressive institutional sponsorship had difficulties, one can imagine what it was like for less well-placed individuals.

Apart from creating difficulties for refugees seeking visas, the State Department consistently downplayed international attempts to solve or ameliorate the refugee situation. For example, in 1936 brain trusters Felix Frankfurter and Raymond Moley urged Roosevelt to send a delegation that included such prominent persons as Rabbi Stephen S. Wise to a 1936 League of Nations conference on refugees. The president instead took the advice of the State Department and sent only a minor diplomatic functionary as an observer. It was then politic for him to accept the State Department's insistence that "the status of all aliens is covered by law and there is no latitude left to the Executive to discuss questions concerning the legal status of aliens." When Roosevelt wanted to do something to he could almost always find a way. Immediately after the Anschluss, he directed that the Austrian quota numbers be used to expand the German quota, and shortly after Kristallnacht, he quietly directed the INS that any political or religious refugees in the United States on six-month visitor's visas could have such visas extended or rolled over every six months. Perhaps 15,000 persons were thus enabled to stay in the United States. On more public occasions however, such as the infamous early 1939 voyage of the German liner Saint Louis, loaded with nearly a thousand refugees whose Cuban visas had been canceled, he again took State Department advice and turned a deaf ear to appeals for American visas while the vessel hove to just off Miami Beach. The Saint Louis returned its passengers to Europe, where many of them perished in the Holocaust.

After the Nazis overran France, Roosevelt showed what a determined president could do. In the summer of 1940 he instructed his Advisory Committee on Refugees to make lists of eminent refugees and told the State Department to issue visas for them. An agent named Varian Fry, operating out of Marseilles and with the cooperation of American vice consuls, managed to get more than a thousand eminent refugees into Spain and on to the United States. Those rescued by these means included Heinrich Mann, Marc Chagall, and Wanda Landowska. But at the same time, Roosevelt appointed his friend Breckinridge Long as assistant secretary of state. A confirmed nativist and anti-Semite, Long was in charge of the visa section and thus oversaw refugee policy. The president eventually became aware of the biases in the State Department, and when he decided in mid-1944 to bring in a "token shipment" of nearly a thousand refugees from American-run camps in Europe, he put Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes in charge. Vice President Walter Mondale's acute 1979 observation that before and during the war the nations of the West "failed the test of civilization" is a sound assessment of American policy.

Two other wartime developments should be noted. First, the State Department became involved in American agricultural policy in connection with the wartime Bracero program, which brought temporary Mexican workers to the United States for work in agriculture and on railroads. The Mexican government was, with good reason, apprehensive about the treatment they might receive, so the State Department was in part responsible for the United States living up to its agreement. Second, the State Department was responsible for the wartime exchanges of diplomats and other enemy nationals with the Axis powers. It was also concerned with the treatment of American civilians in enemy hands, particularly Japan, and because of that justified concern persistently argued for humane treatment for both the few thousand interned Japanese nationals in INS custody and the 120,000 Japanese Americans, both citizen and alien, who were in the custody of the War Relocation Authority.

The war years also witnessed a historic if seemingly minor reversal of American immigration policy with the 1943 repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Few episodes show the connection between immigration and foreign policy so explicitly. President Roosevelt sent a special message to Congress urging the action. Speaking as commander in chief, he regarded the legislation "as important in the cause of winning the war and of establishing a secure peace." Since China was a U.S. ally and its resistance depended in part on "the spirit of her people and her faith in her allies," the president argued for a show of support:

We owe it to the Chinese to strengthen that faith. One step in this direction is to wipe from the statute books those anachronisms in our laws which forbid the immigration of Chinese people into this country and which bar Chinese residents from American citizenship. Nations, like individuals, make mistakes. We must be big enough to acknowledge our mistakes of the past and correct them.

In addition, Roosevelt argued that repeal would silence Japanese propaganda and that the small number of Chinese who would enter would cause neither unemployment nor job competition. The president admitted that "While the law would give the Chinese a preferred status over certain other Oriental people, their great contribution to the cause of decency and freedom entitles them to such preference. Passage will be an earnest of our purpose to apply the policy of the good neighbor to our relations with other peoples."

The repeal of Chinese exclusion was thus sold as a kind of good-behavior prize not for Chinese Americans, thousands of whom were then serving in the U.S. armed forces, but for the Chinese people. Nevertheless, Roosevelt's hint about future policy was right on the mark. Within three years Congress would pass similar special legislation granting naturalization rights and quotas to Filipinos and "natives of India," and in 1952 it would enact legislation ending racial discrimination in naturalization policy. By that time the emphasis was on winning "hearts and minds" in the Cold War.


Even before the Cold War came to dominate almost every facet of American policies toward the rest of the world, attitudes about immigration and immigration policies were beginning to change, as were the policies themselves. The increasing prevalence of an internationalist ideology, membership in the United Nations, and a growing guilt about and horror at the Holocaust all combined to impel the United States to do something about the European refugee crisis symbolized by the millions of displaced persons there. After some crucial months of inaction, Harry Truman issued a presidential directive just before Christmas 1945 that got some refugees into the United States. One important and often over-looked aspect of this directive enabled voluntary agencies, largely religious, to sponsor refugees, which virtually negated the application of the "likely to become a public charge" clause in such cases. Previously, sponsorship of most refugees without significant assets had to be assumed by American relatives. But it was only after passage and implementation of the Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950 that the United States could be said to have a refugee policy, one that the increasingly more diverse personnel of the State Department helped to carry out. That legislation brought more than 400,000 European refugees into the United States and expanded the use of voluntary agencieslater called VOLAGS (Voluntary Agencies Responsible for Refugees)such as the Catholic and Lutheran welfare organizations and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Association. In addition, U.S. sponsorship of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and membership in its successors, the International Refugee Organization and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, contributed to changed attitudes about and policies toward refugees even though general immigration policy remained tied to the quota principle introduced in 19211924, which lasted until 1965.

Even the notorious McCarran-Walter Immigration Act of 1952a quintessential piece of Cold War legislation that passed over Truman's veto and seemed merely to continue the restrictive policies begun in 1921 and 1924contained liberalizing provisions that were more significant than most of its advocates and opponents realized. Chief of these was the total elimination of a color bar in naturalization. While some of the impetus for this came from liberals on racial issues, the push from those impelled by Cold War imperatives was probably more important. State Department representatives and others testified how difficult it was to become the leader of what they liked to term the "free world" when American immigration and naturalization policies blatantly discriminated against the majority of the world's peoples. In addition, a growing understanding that an important diplomatic objective was to win the hearts and minds of peoples and not just the consent of governments made diplomats more aware of the significance of immigrants and immigration. For example, when Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian-born member of Congress, was elected in 1956, the State Department and the United States Information Agency sponsored him and his wife on a tour of his native India.

Although the word "refugee" does not appear in the 1952 immigration act, an obscure section of it gave the attorney general discretionary parole power to admit aliens "for emergency reasons or for reasons in the public interest." This was the method that Roosevelt had used in 1944, without congressional authorization, to bring in nearly a thousand refugees. This allowed the executive branch to respond quickly to emergency situations such as the Hungarian revolt of 1956 and the Cuban revolution of 1959. Between the displaced persons acts of the Truman administration and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981 about 2.25 million refugees were admitted, with about 750,000 Cubans and 400,000 refugees from America's misbegotten wars in Southeast Asia the largest increments. Since during that period some 10.4 million legal immigrants entered the United States, refugees accounted for some 20 percent of the total.

Although most textbook accounts trace the transformation of postWorld War II immigration and immigration policy to the act signed by Lyndon Johnson in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in 1965, that is a gross exaggeration. The reality can be better glimpsed by considering the numerical incidence of immigration to colonial America and the United States over time. No official enumeration of immigration took place before 1819, but most authorities agree that perhaps a million European and African immigrants came before then. Between 1819 and the enactment of the 1924 immigration act some 36 million immigrants arrived. Between 1925 and 1945with immigration inhibited first by the new restrictive law and then much more effectively by the Great Depression and World War IInearly 2.5 million came, an average of fewer than 125,000 annually. In the decade before World War I more than a million came each year. Well into the postWorld War II era, many authorities felt that as a major factor in American history immigration was a thing of the past, but as

Decade Number
19511960 2,515,479
19611970 3,321,677
19711980 4,493,314
19811990 7,338,062
19911998 7,605,068
(eight years only)

the table indicates, based on INS data, this was a serious misperception.

With the self deconstruction of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, domestic policy began to reassume paramount importance in American policy, including immigration policy. Input from the Department of State assumed less significance in immigration matters than during the Cold War era, although the increased volume of immigration greatly taxed and often overtaxed American embassies and consulates. For example, the State Department was given the responsibility of administering the lottery provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 and its successors. The department announced on 10 May 2001 that for the 2002 lottery its Consular Center in Williamsburg, Kentucky, had managed to sift 10 million qualified entries while rejecting an additional 3 million applicants for not following directions and notified 90,000 potential winners chosen at random what they had to do to gain admission to the United States as resident aliens. Each overseas applicant would have to pass an interview examination for eligibility at an American consulate; those applying from within the United States would apply through the INS. Only a maximum of 50,000 of the 90,000 could actually win and gain admittance to the United States along with certain of their qualified dependents. All paper work would have to be completed by 30 September 2002. Anyone who did not have a visa by then lost the presumed advantage of winning. Applications for the 2003 lottery were scheduled to take place during the following month, October 2002.

The major functions of IRCA were the socalled "amnesty," which legalized some 2.7 million immigrants illegally in the United States, the majority of whom were from Mexico, and the promise of effective control measures to "gain control of our borders" by more effective interdiction of illegal border crosses and intensified deportation of remaining resident illegals. This created great fears in many nations of the circum-Caribbean, particularly the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, whose economies were greatly dependent on immigrant remittances, that large numbers of their citizens would be excluded and their remittances ended. These fears were chimerical; borders remained porous. But, in the meantime, to cite just one example, President José Napoléon Duarte wrote President Reagan in early 1987 requesting that Salvadorans in the United States illegally be given "extended voluntary departure" (EVD) status, an aspect of the attorney general's parole power enabling illegal immigrants to remain. While EVD was usually granted on humanitarian grounds, Duarte stressed the economic loss if immigrant remittances ceased. Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, who had opposed EVD on humanitarian grounds, now supported it, but the negative views of the Department of Justice and the congressional leadership prevailed. Forms of EVD or its equivalent were put into place during the Clinton presidency for Salvadorans and Nicaraguans by both the administration and Congress.

The State Department also had to deal with increasing complaints from foreign countries about the execution of its citizens by the criminal justice systems of American states, most of which had been practicing capital punishment with increased enthusiasm at a time when many nations had abolished it. Since it is a legal action, the United States cannot even consider paying compensation of any kind.

The more than 25 million post-1950 immigrants, as is well known, have changed the face of America. As late as the 1950s, immigrants from Europe, who had contributed the lion's share of nineteenth-and early-twentieth century immigrants, still were a bare majority of all immigrants. By the 1980s, thanks largely to the liberal 1965 immigration act and the Refugee Act of 1980, the European share was down to about 10 percent, and immigrants from Latin America and Asia predominated. Although anti-immigrant attitudes again came to the fore in 1980ssparked in part by Ronald Reagan's warnings about being overrun by "feet people"and some scholars saw "a turn against immigration" and predicted effective legislative restriction of immigration, those feelings were not turned into an effective legislative consensus. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, immigration continued at a very high rate, and screening and facilitating that influx continued to be an important aspect of the work of American diplomacy.


Breitman, Richard, and Alan M. Kraut. American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 19331945. Bloomington, Ind., 1987. A good account of nativist sentiment and activity in the State Department.

Corbett, P. Scott. Quiet Passages: The Exchange of Civilians Between the United States and Japan During the Second World War. Kent, Ohio, 1987. Tells the story of the State Department's Special Division.

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York, 1990. Surveys immigration and naturalization policy.

. The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif., 1991.

Dinnerstein, Leonard. America and the Survivors of the Holocaust. New York, 1982. Fundamental to an understanding of the postwar shift in American policy toward refugees.

Fry, Varian. Surrender on Demand. New York, 1945. Fry, whose papers are at Columbia University, tells his story.

Gillion, Steven M. "That's Not What We Meant to Do": Reform and Its Unintended Consequences in Twentieth-Century America. New York, 2000. A series of case studies, including one on the 1965 immigration act.

Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 18601925. New Brunswick, N.J., 1955. The classic work on American nativism.

Karlin, J. Alexander. "The Indemnification of Aliens Injured by Mob Violence." Southwestern Social Science Quarterly 25 (1945): 235246. Treats indemnification for victims of violence.

Loewenstein, Sharon. Token Refuge: The Story of the Jewish Refugee Shelter at Oswego, 19441946. Bloomington, Ind., 1986. Describes the first mass shipment of refugees.

Meyer, Michael A. "The Refugee Scholars Project of the Hebrew Union College." In Bertram Wallace Korn, ed. A Bicentennial Festschrift for Jacob Rader Marcus. New York, 1976. Most instructive about difficulties to refugee admission created by the State Department.

Mitchell, Christopher, ed. Western Hemisphere Immigration and U.S. Foreign Policy. University Park, Pa., 1992. A collection of essays largely by political scientists.

Peffer, George Anthony. If They Don't Bring Their Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration Before Exclusion. Urbana, Ill., 1999.

Reimers, David M. Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America. 2d ed. New York, 1992.

. Unwelcome Strangers: American Identity and the Turn Against Immigration. New York, 1998. Along with Still the Golden Door, this book is part of the cutting edge of late-twentieth-century immigration history.

Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence. The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. 2d ed. Urbana, Ill., 1991.

Schulzinger, Robert D. The Making of the Diplomatic Mind: The Training, Outlook, and Style of United States Foreign Service Officers, 19081931. Middletown, Conn., 1975. Although many works on the foreign service ignore its immigration functions, this work is a happy exception.

Schwartz, Donald. "Breckinridge Long." In John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography. New York, 2000. This sketch makes the subject's prejudices explicit.

Smith, David A. "From the Mississippi to the Mediterranean: The 1891 New Orleans Lynching and Its Effects on United States Diplomacy and the American Navy." Southern Historian 19 (1998): 6085.

Wilson, Theodore A. "Wilbur J. Carr." In John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography. New York, 2000. This laudatory sketch of Wilbur J. Carr ignores Carr's prejudices and his role in immigration policy.

See also Asylum; Department of State; Refugee Policies .


The Immigration Act of 1965 changed the face of America and is one of three laws passed that yearthe others being the Voting Rights Act and the establishment of Medicare and Medicaidwhich collectively represent the high-water mark of twentieth-century American liberalism. Yet the immigration statute was not always so perceived. At the signing ceremony on Liberty Island, with Ellis Island in the background, President Lyndon Johnson minimized the act's importance: "The bill that we sign today 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 our wealth and power."

The law, in fact, changed the focus of immigration to the United States, greatly increasing the share going to Asia and the Western Hemisphere, and, through its heightened emphasis on family migration, led to a massive increase in the volume of immigration. Johnson was not dissimulating in his assessment. He was repeating what his advisers in the State and Justice departments had told him. They had focused on righting what they saw to be past mistakes of American immigration policy, and Johnson, following them, stressed the wrong done to those "from southern or eastern Europe." Members of both departments had testified before Congress that few persons from the Third World would enter under its provisions, and it is highly doubtful that the law would have been recommended or enacted had anyone understood what the results would be. Political scientists later developed the concept of unintended consequences. As Stephen M. Gillion points out in "That's Not What We Meant to Do" (2000), the 1965 Immigration Act is one of the prime examples of this phenomenon.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigration." Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigration." Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigration." Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from



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

Table 1

Immigration by Centuries
16th–18th century1,000,000
19th century19,000,000
20th century47,000,000
Total (legal or legalized)67,000,000
Illegal Immigration (at least)3,000,000

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

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

Beginning of the Twenty-First Century

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

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nineteenth Century

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

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

Table 2

Immigration to the United States, 1801–1900
*No statistics were collected prior to 1819. The data are taken from official sources.
Period Number
1801–1820Fewer than 100,000*
Totalc. 19,200,000

Table 3

Rate of Immigration per 1,000, 1821–1900

Table 4

Foreign Born as a Percentage of Total Population, 1850–1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Era of Industrial Expansion, 1870s–1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 5

Annual Immigration and Emigration, 1905–1914*
*Fiscal year ending 30 June
**Emigrants not recorded before 1908
Year Immigrants Emigrants** Net Migration

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

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

1920s to 2000

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

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

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

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

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

Table 6

Immigration and Emigration, 1921–1945
Period Immigration Average Emigration Average Net Immigration Average

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

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

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

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

Table 7

Immigration and Foreign Born, 1951–2000
*In last year of period, i.e., 1960, 1970, etc.
**lowest figure ever recorded; no data before 1850
Years Immigration (millions) Foreign Born* (millions) Percentage of Foreign Born

Table 8

Sources of Immigration to the United States, 1951–1998 (in millions)
Years  Europe Asia Americas Africa Other Total

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


See alsoChinese Exclusion Act ; McCarran-Walter Act ; Proposition 187 ; Refugee Act of 1980 ; Refugees ; andvol. 9:Maya in Exile: Guatemalans in Florida .

Preference Systems, 1952 and 1965 Immigration Acts

Immigration and Nationality Act, 1952

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

Immigration Act of 1965

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

  1. Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens: 20%.
  2. Spouses and unmarried adult children of permanent resident aliens: 20%.
  3. Members of the professions and scientists and artists of exceptional ability: 10% (requires certification from U.S. Department of Labor).
  4. Married children of U.S. citizens: 10%.
  5. Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over age twenty-one: 24%.
  6. Skilled and unskilled workers in occupations for which labor is in short supply in the U.S.: 10% (requires certification from U.S. Department of Labor).
  7. Refugees from communist or communist dominated countries or from the Middle East: 6%.
  8. Nonpreference: applicants not entitled to any of the above. (Since there have been more preference applicants than can be accommodated, this category has never been used. Congress eventually adopted the so-called lottery provision to provide for such persons.)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigration." Dictionary of American History. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigration." Dictionary of American History. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigration." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from



Immigration is the term used to describe the process of a person entering and settling as a permanent resident in another country; emigration is the process of leaving one's country of origin. When the term immigration is used, emigration is assumed to have occurred first. Emigrating is the beginning and immigrating is the end of the process of international migration. International migration is when people move voluntarily (immigrants) or involuntarily (refugees) from one country to another, settling permanently or temporarily (sojourners) in another country.

The process of international migration has a profound effect on families. Family, economic, and political situations all influence reasons for immigrating. A country's immigration policies determine who is admitted and its approach to integration of newcomers. The decision to emigrate is made by one or more family members, and may be viewed initially as a permanent or temporary move. The tendency is to look at the effect of the immigration process on those who settle in a new country, although the effect extends to those who remain in the home country. Families also play a role in immigrant adaptation.

Reasons for Immigration

Researchers from diverse disciplines focus on slightly different but interrelated reasons for the decision to immigrate. Economists identify push and pull factors, both of which emphasize employment opportunities. For example, if the economy in the other country compared to the home country offers better chances for job advancement, wages, and employment, the individual is pushed to emigrate. In a pull situation, a country is actively recruiting new workers for specific jobs, and the opportunities are sufficient to entice the person to immigrate (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001). Countries of origin may encourage people to leave for economic reasons. If some family members emigrate but others remain behind, the family and the country both benefit from the financial support sent back to family members (Rumbaut 1997).

Sociologists describe a chain migration process in which migration begets additional migration. The first person emigrating from the area sends information to those in the home country about jobs, housing, and schools in the new setting. Others immigrate and are assisted by those who preceded them. Eventually, within a geographic area in the new country, there are a number of immigrants from the same area in the home country.

Anthropologists focus on changes in the standard of living and cultural reasons for immigration. First-hand accounts from new immigrants as well as media accounts of the country's standard of living entice people to immigrate to the new country for a better way of life. Parents place their children's interests before their own; immigration is worthwhile because it betters the lives of their children even if the parents' situation is not as good as they anticipated (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001).

Psychologists suggest that personality factors are important in the desire to emigrate. Those who want to emigrate are more work-oriented, consider the family less central, are lower on affiliation motivation, and have higher achievement and power motivation. These personality factors are most salient for those who are not family-sponsored immigrants (Boneva and Frieze 2001).

Political scientists emphasize ethnopolitical reasons for emigration. Countries may encourage emigration to ease ethnic conflict, or to establish presence in another country, by resettling particular ethnic groups voluntarily or involuntarily. Whether one is allowed to emigrate may depend upon payment to or permission of authorities in the country of origin.


Immigration policy encompasses criteria for qualifying as an immigrant, through an independent application or family reunification. Policies vary over time based on the types of workers that are needed, definitions of family used in family reunification, and assessment of the impact of such policies on the country's social, political, and economic systems.

In an independent application, the immigrant is applying based on the country's employment admission criteria. Family reunification occurs when an immigrant applies to bring family members into the country. Priority for admission is given to spouses and children. Close relatives such as siblings and parents are included during periods of more openness in immigration policy.

In describing nine industrialized democratic nations' approaches to immigration policy at the end of the twentieth century, Wayne Cornelius, Philip Martin, and James Hollifield (1994) classified the countries as follows: countries of immigration (United States and Canada), reluctant countries of immigration (France, Germany, Belgium, and Britain), and latecomers to immigration (Italy, Spain, and Japan).

Australia, like the United States and Canada, is a country of immigration. All three countries are proud of being nations of immigrants and lands of opportunity for newcomers. Until the mid-1960s and 1970s, immigration to these countries was primarily from Europe; after that, larger-scale immigration of visible minorities from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean began. Western nations are experiencing increased ethnic diversity because of the general movement of people in the last half of the twentieth century from developing to industrialized nations (Zlotnic 2001).

At the start of the twenty-first century, some Western countries wanted to limit admittance under family reunification and to place more controls on immigration. Controls involve sanctions against employers and immigrants. The government fines employers who hire immigrants who are in the country illegally, and family-sponsored immigrants are limited in eligibility for public resources such as welfare.

There are three primary reasons for needing controls. First, Western countries do not have the ability to provide employment for more newcomers and permanent residents. Second, immigration from developing nations affects national culture, language, and identity of the country of immigration. Finally, more immigrants strain already over-burdened government-funded health, education, and welfare systems (Cornelius et al. 1994).

Critics suggest that the need for controls is overstated, and that the controls are based on ethnocentrism, reflecting Western views of marriage, family, and way of life. Such controls potentially have an impact on arranged marriages, adoption, extended family, and homosexual relationships. Marriages may be viewed as a way to enter a country—a marriage of convenience rather than a legitimate marriage (Cohen 2001).

Controls have an impact on families adjusting to their new country. If controls restrict the reuniting of family members, families remain separated by national boundaries or they enter as illegal immigrants. If family members are admitted, families remain responsible for them financially. This places a burden on the family, and also reinforces dependence, keeping spouses in an untenable marriage (violence, abuse) and limiting opportunities (Cohen 2001). Controls are based on the idea that family reunification is a drain on public resources. Some research suggests that this is not the situation ( Jasso and Rosenzweig 1995).

Pathways to Immigration

The path taken to become an immigrant varies and affects subsequent adjustment and opportunities in the new country. Two common patterns are for the family to immigrate at the same time or for the primary wage earner to immigrate first and sponsor the rest of the family later. The primary wage earner is usually the most employable family member, either a man or woman, depending upon job opportunities and who meets the criteria for immigration. This wage earner is expected to support family members back home financially while also saving enough money to sponsor their immigration.

Carola and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco (2001), in their study of children of immigrants in fifty schools in Boston and San Francisco, noted that only 35 percent of their sample immigrated at the same time as their parents. Typically, the child stays in the home country with one parent or other relatives, with the separation lasting months or years. The child remains behind because the home country is the best place to raise the child, or the immigrant parent's work hours limit ability to care for the child. When further schooling is not available in the country of origin, the child immigrates. Whether detrimental effects occur depend upon how the parties involved view the situation. If it is considered acceptable in the child's native culture, and if positive relationships exist with parents and temporary caregivers, the effects are less negative. Shorter periods of separation, knowledge of when the separation will end, and frequent communication through letters, gifts, phone calls, and visits, result in less negative outcomes. Once the child is reunited with parents, there are additional adjustments—loss of not being with caregiver and friends in the home country, adjusting to the new country, specifically to school, to parent(s), and to siblings born in the interim.

Family sponsorship rather than employment is the major route of recent immigration to the United States, but not to Canada and Australia. In the year 2000, 71 percent of U.S. immigrants were family sponsored compared with 31 percent of Canadian and 45 percent of Australian immigrants (Dovidio and Esses 2001). Under family sponsorship, marriage to a citizen is the major route of entry in the United States. There is a multiplier effect of family reunification on immigration among legal immigrants. Individuals sponsored by family become permanent residents and are able to sponsor additional family members. Many recent immigrants have kin already living in and knowledgeable about life in the new country, facilitating their adjustment (Rumbaut 1997).

Illegal or undocumented immigration is another route. Legal immigration is critical for full access to public benefits and opportunities afforded to legal residents. Illegal or undocumented immigrants may also be deported, splitting up the family unit if it contains citizens born in the country as well as nondocumented members (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001). Experts suggest that limits on family sponsorship result in additional illegal immigrants because they do not see a chance to reunite otherwise (Donato, Durand, and Massey 1992).

Not all immigration involves a permanent move to another country. There are three types of temporary immigration: (1) A target earner goes to another country for employment, returning to the home country when a targeted amount of earnings have been saved. One or both parents may be such earners, but the children remain with relatives in the home country. Months or even years later, the earner has achieved the goal and reunites with family in the home country. (2) Sojourners are temporarily in the country. They may be executives or employees of multinational corporations, or seasonal workers in agriculture or construction. Spouse or children may go with them or remain behind in the home country. (3) Binationals work and live in two countries, having the legal status (work permits, citizenship) to do so. This pattern is not common, possibly because it requires proximity or ease of travel between the two nations and considerable financial resources (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001).

Immigration's Effect on Families

Family ties are maintained across national boundaries. Some family members may not want to immigrate, others may not be allowed to immigrate, and the immigrant may have insufficient finances to sponsor relatives. Immigrants show considerable ingenuity in providing food, clothing, medical items, and money to relatives with less access to such resources in the home country. Items are shipped directly, or more complex exchanges are done to ensure that items reach the intended relatives. For example, an immigrant family might give money to another family in the country of immigration; in turn, that family instructs their relatives in the home country to give an equivalent amount of money to the other immigrant's relatives in the home country (Gold 1992).

Immigrants who reside in the new country begin to create a new family life, one that is influenced by both past cultural customs and the ways of the new country, but is also different from both (Foner 1997; Kibria 1997). Such families exemplify integration or bicultural adjustment rather than assimilation. Assimilation (a melting pot approach) means giving up one's home culture to adopt the ways of the dominant culture. Integrated or bicultural families are possible if there are sufficient numbers in the ethnic community, if immigration continues from the country of origin, and if the ethnic community has links with the country of origin (Kibria 1997).

Nancy Foner (1997) summarizes research on how the immigrant family's cultural background, social and economic circumstances in the new country, and the legal system, help create an integrated or bicultural family. Although traditions change over time in the country of origin, the immigrant may continue to think that such customs are timeless, and interpret the present based upon the remembered past. Such cultural understandings are critical in reinforcing traditional family values and behaviors. Social influences, such as the availability of close kin and a balanced sex ratio, also help maintain traditional family life. For example, the absence of appropriate close kin such as older relatives to care for the children and to do housework results in nontraditional patterns of husbands assisting wives in such activities. An imbalance of men to women affects who gets married and whether spouses are from another ethnic group or are sought from the home country (Foner 1997). Even when there are sufficient numbers of women, a man may seek a marital partner from the home country because he wants a traditional wife, not one who exemplifies Western values (DeLaet 1999).

Young immigrants compared to their parents, and women more than men, may incorporate Western values (less patriarchy and more egalitarian views) because they represent independence or freedom from some traditional roles (Foner 1997). Women are expected to raise their children to understand cultural traditions as well as to fit into the new setting. Although there are pressures to retain specific gender roles, women have multiple opportunities for changing roles, especially when they are separated from extended families and receive limited reinforcement of cultural roles from the ethnic community. Olivia Espin (1999) suggests that "the degree of integration of the women of a given immigrant group in the host society—rather than the integration and/or success of men—indicates the significance of the transformation occurring in the immigrant community. It signals their adaptation to the new life" (p. 4).

The legal system identifies certain cultural practices as illegal (e.g., polygamy) and makes it possible for other practices to be challenged or prosecuted (e. g., physical abuse of wife or child). Legitimate children and legal but not common-law spouses can be sponsored under family reunification. Government agencies interact with women, not only the men in the household, thus increasing the woman's potential influence in the family (Foner 1997).

Economic circumstances shape family life: men's earnings may be insufficient, and women's earnings become essential for the family. Women's employment brings some economic independence, potentially altering traditional patterns of authority in the family (Foner 1997). When women work outside the home, men are expected to share household responsibilities (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001). Postmigration, Vietnamese immigrants have shown additional sharing in household tasks even though considerable sharing had been done traditionally. The pattern of sharing shifted from performance of tasks by several members of the household to husband and wife sharing the tasks ( Johnson 1998). If the elderly do not have financial resources, their authority may be weakened. On the other hand, access to public support such as welfare may provide the elderly with independence from their grown children (Foner 1997). Because it is easier for children than their parents to learn the country's language, children become the interpreters and serve as the family's contact with the outside world, undermining parental authority and status (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 2001).

Assistance of family members is often important for ensuring economic viability of new immigrants, especially for those who have limited financial resources. When extended family members are not available, substitute family networks are created. Newcomers form households of all unrelated individuals, or of related and unrelated individuals, who view each other as family. They also marry to create kinship ties that are helpful if difficult financial times occur; sponsor relatives, even distant and less known ones, to ensure that kin are available to help out in the future; and form kin networks in which in-laws are treated as substitutes for siblings or parents. Reciprocal help, inherent in the kin-based households, is expected in these variant households (Kibria 1993). Sharing resources, such as pooling income earned by all household members, reduces the chance of the household being in poverty (Caplan, Whitmore, and Choy 1989) and provides the opportunity to own a home or other possessions more quickly (Gold 1993).

Family or ethnic businesses may be viewed as an optimal solution for new immigrants who have difficulty obtaining employment in nonethnic labor markets that require language fluency and other skills (Gold 1992). Ethnic businesses serve several functions: economic support for the family, employment of others in one's ethnic group or family, and autonomy that is not readily available with low- or minimum-wage employment. Other advantages of ethnic businesses are provision of in-kind wages such as food, clothing, or a chance to bring children to the work setting instead of hiring a caretaker (Gold 1992). In her study of Chinese restaurants in Britain, Miri Song (1999) noted that older children play an integral role in the business when parents need translation assistance and unpaid labor for the survival of the business. The children consider helping out in the family business as expected and done out of good will rather than for wages. In return, parents provide material and emotional support, exemplifying the importance of intergenerational exchanges.

Reading first-hand accounts enhances understanding the daily lives of immigrants as they adapt to life in the new country. Thomas Dublin (1993) provided a sampling of such stories and an extensive bibliography covering U.S. immigration from 1773–1986. He noted the similarities across the ethnically diverse waves of immigrants: similar motivations (economic and war dislocations) for immigrating and similar processes of becoming part of the new country. Common experiences included cultural differences that separate them from the existing population, resulting in discrimination, exclusion, and the formation of ethnic communities for mutual economic and social support. Cultural conflicts between generations and within one's beliefs were evident when immigrants were caught between the values of two cultures. The successes of immigrants—working hard and succeeding financially and academically, and contributing to their new country—were portrayed.

In Immigration and the Family, edited by Alan Booth, Ann Crouter, and Nancy Landale, a strong case was made for expanding the role of families in future immigration research and policy. As stated by Rubén Rumbaut, "the family is perhaps the strategic research site . . . for understanding the dynamics of immigration flows (legal and illegal) and of immigrant adaptation processes." (1997, p. 4; emphasis in original).

See also:Acculturation; Familism; Global Citizenship; Grief, Loss, and Bereavement; Migration; Urbanization


boneva, b. s., and frieze, i. h. (2001). "toward a concept of a migrant personality." journal of social issues 57:477–491.

booth, a.; crouter, a. c.; and landale, n., eds. (1997).immigration and the family: research and policy on u.s. immigrants. mahwah, nj: lawrence erlbaum associates.

caplan, n.; whitmore, j. k.; and choy, m. h. (1989). theboat people and achievement in america. ann arbor: the university of michigan press.

cohen, s. (2001). immigration controls, the family, and the welfare state. london: jessica kingsley publishers.

cornelius, w.; martin, p. l.; and hollifield, j. f., eds.(1994). controlling immigration: a global perspective. stanford, ca: stanford university press.

delaet, d. l. (1999). "introduction: the invisibility ofwomen in scholarship on international migration." in gender and immigration, ed. g. a. kelson and d. l. delaet. london: macmillan.

donato, k. m.; durand, j.; and massey, d. s. (1992)."stemming the tide? assessing the deterrent effects of the immigration reform and control act." demography 29:139–157.

dovidio j. f., and esses, v. m. (2001). "immigrants andimmigration: advancing the psychological perspective." journal of social issues 57:375–387.

dublin, t., ed. (1993). immigrant voices: new lives inamerica 1773–1986. urbana: university of illinois press.

espin, o. m. (1999). women crossing boundaries: a psychology of immigration and transformations of sexuality. new york: routledge.

foner, n. (1997). "the immigrant family: cultural legacies and cultural changes." international migration review 31:961–974.

gold, s. j. (1992). refugee communities: a comparativefield study. newbury park, ca: sage.

gold, s. j. (1993). "migration and family adjustment: continuity and change among vietnamese in the united states." in family ethnicity: strength in diversity, h. p. mcadoo. newbury park, ca: sage.

jasso, g., and rosenzweig, m. r. (1995). "do immigrantsscreened for skills do better than family reunification immigrants?" international migration review 29:85–111.

johnson, p. j. (1998). "performance of household tasks by vietnamese and laotian refugees." journal of family issues 19:245–273.

kibria, n. (1993). family tightrope: the changing lives ofvietnamese americans. princeton, nj: princeton university press.

kibria, n. (1997). "the concept of 'bicultural families' and its implications for research on immigrant and ethnic families." in immigration and the family. research and policy on u.s. immigrants, ed. a. booth, a. c. crouter, and n. landale. mahwah, nj: lawrence erlbaum associates.

rumbaut, r. (1997). "ties that bind: immigration and immigrant families in the united states." in immigration and the family: research and policy on u.s. immigrants, ed. a. booth, a. c. crouter, and n. landale. mahwah, nj: lawrence erlbaum associates.

song, m. (1999). helping out: children's labor in ethnicbusinesses. philadelphia, pa: temple university press.

suarez-orozco, c., and suarez-orozco, m. m. (2001).children of immigration. cambridge, ma: harvard university press.

zlotnik, h. (2001). "past trends in international migration and their implications for future prospects." in international migration into the 21st century, ed. m. a. b. siddique. northampton, ma: edward elgar.

phyllis j. johnson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigration." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigration." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigration." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from

Immigrants, Immigration


Immigration is a major historical, yet current influence and integral part of how nations continue to grow and change in population and diversity. M. Fix and J. S. Passel (1994) list the principal goals of U.S. immigration policy as: social, economic, cultural, moral, and national and economic security (includes protection from infectious and animal-borne diseases, environmental hazards, food safety, terrorists, and various criminal acts). Canadian and European policies encompass similar goals, but with greater emphasis on the economic impact of immigration. In 1999 over 16 million legal immigrants in Western Europe earned more than $460 billion. However, despite the projection indicating that European countries face a dramatic population decline over the next 50 years, many European countries want to restrict immigration on the basis of economic reasons, including the fear of exacerbating the already significant problem of unemployment. Immigration policies are the responsibility of national governments, while the policies regarding how countries deal with immigrants are shared by the various levels of governmentnational, state, and local.

At the federal level in the United States, for example, several agencies play key roles in developing and implementing national immigration and immigrant policies. The principal immigration agencies are: the United States Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which is responsible for enforcing the laws regulating the admission of foreign-born persons(i.e., aliens) to the United States and for administering various immigration benefits, including naturalization and resettlement of refugees; and the Department of Treasury U.S. Customs Service, which is the primary enforcement agency protecting the nation's borders. Other federal agencies deal more directly with the public health dimension of immigration and immigrants. Although many countries have organizations dealing with immigrants and immigration issues, there are international agencies that act as important brokers regarding migration among countries. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an intergovernmental body that is committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society. Since 1951, the IOM has acted with member countries (currently 79) to assist in meeting operational challenges of migration, to advance understanding of migration issues, to encourage social and economic development through migration, and to uphold human dignity and well being of migrants.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is another international agency which, since 1951, has played a significant role in responding to the world's growing refugee predicament. As one of the world's principal humanitarian organizations, the UNHCR provides international protection to refugees and seeks durable solutions to their plight. For the year 2000, there were about 22.5 million refugees and other persons of concern to the UNHCR.


Immigration policies have directly influenced the demographic composition of the immigrating populations over the lives of the nations. The first immigration office in the United States and Canadian federal governments were created in the nineteenth century by laws intended mainly to encourage immigration. Later, the U.S. Immigration Act of 1891 provided for deportation of aliens living unlawfully in the country. About this same time, in 1882, the U.S. Congress asserted the first broad federal regulatory power regarding immigration by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years. In Canada, although there was no law passed to exclude any particular group of immigrants, careful procedures were developed to ensure most applications submitted by black people were rejected. From the late nineteenth century to the year 2000, most North American, European, and Australian immigration policies have shifted from a focus on qualities of individuals(e.g., excluding illiterates, criminals, those with illnesses) to a focus on countries of origin with a more inclusionary focus using preference categories, to a sharpened humanitarian approach in admitting those in need (such as refugees) through permanent and systematic assessments. In European countries, various approaches for integrating immigrants are at work. Germany has developed special institutions and programs for foreigners, while France tends to stress general rather than foreigners-only programs. The European Union recognizes that immigrants are needed for demographic and economic reasons.

Census data indicate that the percent of foreign-born persons in the total U.S. population has waxed and waned from a high of 14.8 percent in 1910 to a low of 4.7 percent in 1970. In July 1999, the foreign-born resident population estimates totalled about 25.8 million, or about 9.5 percent of the total U.S. population. Likewise, Canada's peak year for immigration (1913) saw the arrival of about 400,000 people. Its 1996 census showed a continued growth in immigration with 17.4 percent of Canadian residents being first-generation immigrants. From 1990 to 1999, the United States foreign-born population increased. Hispanics increased from 8 to 11 million persons, and the Asian and Pacific Islander groups increased from4.5 to 6.3 million. More than 60 percent of the Asian and Pacific Islander populations in the United States and about 35 percent of Hispanics are foreign-born.

These statistics reveal how changes in immigration policies, especially within the past fifty years, have influenced the makeup of the foreignborn populations in the United States. For France, there have been several immigration priority shifts over the years. Initially priority was given to members of France's colonies, subsequently, to Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and, more recently, to North African guest workers. A shift of immigration priorities also occurred in Canada when, after its 1976 Immigration Act was passed, immigrants from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America were welcomed.

The late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century provided a different country-of-origin profile for immigration to the United States. Since 1820, Germany has been the greatest source of immigrants to the United States, with Mexico ranking second, Italy third, and the United Kingdom and Ireland a close fourth and fifth, respectively. Changes were evident in 1996 when the country-of-origin profile for immigration showed that of the top ten nations, four were Asian nations, three Latin American nations, two from the former Soviet Union, and one from the Caribbean. The United States Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided an amnesty for undocumented persons living in the United States under certain conditions, which resulted in about2.8 million persons attaining legal statusthe majority of whom were Hispanic. The 1996 count used by the INS for "illegal alien populations" or undocumented persons is about 5 million, with about 2.7 million estimated to be from Mexico. Other countries in Europe indicate that 300,000 to 1,000,000 "unauthorized immigrants" reside within their borders.

Immigrant populations in the United States from the Asian and European countries have more years of education than immigrants from Latin American countries. Further 1999 estimates of the average age of foreign-born racial and ethnic groups range from seven to eleven years older than the U.S. total population estimates for the respective groups. The occupations of immigrants depend on their education and their proficiency in speaking English. It was estimated that in 1990 about 40 percent of immigrants were either operators/laborers/fabricators or service workers. Immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy not only in terms of labor force participation rates but also in terms of taxes paid and earnings spent for goods and service on their local economies. On the other hand, in 1997, the unemployment rates for immigrants were much higher in France than for French nationals. The French nationals' rate was 12 percent compared with 31 percent for immigrants from non-European Union countries and 50 percent among North Africans.

Geographic distribution of the foreign-born within the United States from the 1990 census indicates that most live in the West and are from Mexico. Immigrants settle and reside mainly in metropolitan areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami; this is also consistent with the living patterns of Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States. Projections of the immigrant populations by the Census Bureau at the low, middle, and highest series indicate that the largest growth will be in the Asian and Pacific Islander populations over the next fifty years. Using the 1990 base for population projections, the Census estimates that by the year 2045, foreign-born populations will grow to about 13.5 percent of the total population, compared to 9.5 percent in 1999. The distribution of immigrant ethnic groups in Canada shows people from the British Isles as the majority throughout Canada with the exception of Quebec where the French dominate. The West and prairie provinces include about 15 percent German and significant numbers (9 to 11 percent) of Ukrainians.


Although immigration policies are complex, much of the work of responsible public health professionals and organizations is to consider how best to serve the immigrant populations who arrive. As noted above, there are several public health agencies in the United States responsible for the health of the entering populations. Other nations and international organizations also help with caring for the education, social, and health needs of immigrants. For refugees, in particular, the resettlement process in the United States includes the federal agency working with local providers to ensure health services are provided. Other than refugees and asylees, immigrants must ensure that they do not become a "public charge," that is, dependent on the government for subsistence. Based on determinations of INS in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services, United States federal health services programs can be provided to immigrants without being considered "public charges." There are other restrictions to public benefits that are part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), which restricts access by some legal immigrants to certain programs and denies access by undocumented/unauthorized immigrants to many government funded programs. Federal and state programs affected under this law include Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, and food stamps.

For public health purposes, the state's restriction of certain public benefit programs must not inhibit the public health system in serving immigrant populations with interventions and services that target at-risk populations. Knowing the populations within the community is a fundamental requirement in public health. Assessments of immigrant populations must take into account the country of origin and its socio-political context, language use and level of language proficiency, age and educational profile, cultural nuances including specific gender practices and protocols, time in the country and familial ties, particular health practices and beliefs that may be common to the population, social and religious beliefs and practices, and the economic conditions of employment. Such assessments then include not only a quantitative epidemiological approach, but also a qualitative ethnographic inquiry as complementary data.

Policies developed for public health systems are critical in addressing the particular characteristics and needs of immigrant populations. Being consistent in serving the populations establishes a trusting environment for newly arrived and foreign-born populations who may have emigrated from countries where governments were not trustworthy. In keeping with the United States Healthy People 2010 report's second goal of eliminating health disparities, policies will also need to be flexible and allow for interpretation in the field.

Providing the proper interventions and services through culturally competent systems becomes a major challenge for the public health community, not just the public health government agencies. Generally, immigrants are not familiar with the variety of places (both private and public) from which services and promotion of healthy practices are derived. Getting to know the different sources of services is much more complex than immigrant populations may have experienced in the past. (Moreover, it is not unlikely that in some countries the systems are such that even the native-born populations are still unfamiliar with how their public health systems work.) Such coordination requires collaborative trust among providers and their respective organizations, and will help to build more confidence in the use of the system by the immigrant populations.

As a final point for the public health community in refining experiences with immigrant populations, there is the need to keep up with what potential public health issues are occurring globally, nationally, statewide, and, of course, locally. Experience has shown that refugees and other immigrants can quickly be placed in a community due to some type of international disturbance. Keeping informed of immigrant populations as part of the community allows for better decisions on what health improvements may be needed, and what actions should be taken when more immigrants arrive.

J. Henry Montes

(see also: Acculturation; Cross-Cultural Communication, Competence; Ethnicity and Health )


Applied History Research Group. "The Peopling of Canada: 18911921." World Wide Web document1997. Available at

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2000). "Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 19001997."

Dustman, C., and Ian, P. (2000). "Racial and Economic Factors in Attitudes to Immigration." Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

Entorf, H. (2000). "Rational Migration Policy Should Tolerate Non-Zero Illegal Migration Flows: Lessons from Modelling the Market for Illegal Immigration." Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). http://www.

Fix, M., and Passel, J. S. (1994). Immigration and Immigrants: Setting the Record Straight. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

German Marshall Fund of the United States (2000). "Migration Dialogue: Report of Seminar on Immigration and Integration; Focus on Lyons, France, May 68, 1999."

Heckmann, F. (1998). "Managing Migration in the 21st Century."

International Organization for Migration. Official web site:

Martin, P. (1998). "Managing Migration in the 21st Century."

Migration News (2000).

Canada. 200005.html.

Simon, J. L. (1989). The Economic Consequences of Immigration. London: Basil Blackwell, Ltd.

Sowell, T. (1996). Migrations and Cultures: A World View. New York: Basic Books.

Turnoch, B. J. (1997). Public Health: What It Is and How It Works. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers.

United Nations Economic and Social Council (1997). "Report of the Secretary-General."

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Official web site information, 2001: http://www.

University of Calgary (2001). "The Peopling of Canada: 18611921."

U.S. Census Bureau. "Annual Projections of the Total Resident Population as of July 1: Middle, Lowest, Highest, and Zero International Migration Series, 1999 to 2100." World Wide Web document, 2000.

"Foreign Born Resident Population Estimates of the United States by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: April 1, 1990 to July 1, 1999." World Wide Web document, 2000.

"Projections of the Resident Population by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Nativity: Middle Series, 2000 to 2005." World Wide Web document, 2000:

"Projections of the Resident Population by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Nativity: Middle Series, 2025 to 2045." World Wide Web document, 2000:

"Resident Population of the United States by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin." World Wide Web document, 2000.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (1999). "Fact Sheet on Public Charge." World Wide Web document:

(2000). "Statistics: State of Residence Tables."

(2000). "Statistics: Country of Origin Tables."

Wipf, J., and Wipf, P. (2000). "Immigration Issues; Immigration Europe: Crisis or Denial?"

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigrants, Immigration." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigrants, Immigration." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigrants, Immigration." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from



Immigration had an important influence on the American population during the last third of the twentieth century comparable to peaks in the earliest decades of the century. In 1997, for example, nearly 800,000 persons immigrated legally to the United States. In that year, the mean age of native-born American adults eighteen and over was virtually identical to that of long-term immigrants (45.1 and 45.0 years, respectively), while recent immigrants averaged 33.5 years of age. Since people usually immigrate when they are young, immigration offsets the effects of population aging, but only in the short run. Because immigrants also grow older, 10.8 million new immigrants would be required annually to maintain year-2000 support ratios (the ratio of persons age fifteen to sixty-four to those sixty-five and older) until 2050. Since recent immigrants are largely from Asia and the Western hemisphere, the older population will grow more diverse in its ethnic and racial composition as young immigrants age.

Types of older immigrants

Persons age sixty-five and older made up only 3 percent of immigrants who entered the United States between 1990 and 2000, as compared to 14 percent of immigrants who arrived before this period and 12 percent of the native-born population. Older people are less likely to move, if only because they have stronger ties to their place of residence. Despite this propensity to age in place, 41,780 immigrants age sixty-five and older were admitted to the United States as permanent residents in 1996. The majority of older immigrants in 1996 (57 percent) were women. While most of the older men were married (84 percent), the women were more evenly divided between the married (45 percent) and the widowed (40 percent).

The percentage of immigrants age sixty-five and older has climbed steadilyfrom 2 percent in the early 1960s to 4 to 5 percent in the late 1990s. Because overall immigration increased markedly, this period also saw an eight-fold increase in the number of elderly immigrants. Most older immigrants settled in states that already had large immigrant populations (e.g., California, New York, Texas, Florida, Hawaii).

In addition to immigrants admitted as permanent residents, many older people who entered the country earlier adjust their visas to permanent resident status. In 1996, adjustments included 6,230 refugees and asylees, age sixty-five and older who had sought protection from persecution in their countries of nationality. Furthermore, many older adults are among the tourists and visitors admitted to the United States on a temporary visa each year. Of the 1.4 million elderly nonimmigrant visitors in 1996, nearly half came from the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, or Mexico.

Older people who immigrate permanently do so largely for family reasons, particularly to be close to children living in the United States. There are no numerical limits placed on immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, provided they are twenty-one years of age or older. In 1996, 87 percent of newly admitted immigrants, age sixty-five and older entered the country as parents of U.S. citizens. Another 11 percent of older immigrants entered under some other family reunification provision of U.S. immigration law (e.g., as spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents). Apparently, illegal immigration is unusual for those admitted as parents. Fewer than 2 percent of parents who immigrated to the United States in 1996 had been illegal immigrants at some point, as indicated by self-reports or visa documents, but almost 20 percent of all permanent immigrants had such irregularities.

Origins of older immigrants

The major countries that are departure points for older immigrants include China, Russia, Cuba, the Philippines, Mexico, India, Vietnam, and Iran. When the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 ended the system of national origin quotas, which favored European immigrants, there was a marked increase in Asian immigration. According to Immigration and Naturalization Service data, in 1991 over half of the permanent legal immigrants age sixty-five and older entered the United States from Asia. China and the Philippines each contributed over 10 percent of the older immigrants in 1991. Asia was the birthplace of nearly two-thirds of older people immigrating as parents of U.S. citizens. To become eligible to sponsor a parent's immigration, immigrant children must become naturalized citizens. Asians have high naturalization rates. In contrast, Mexican immigrants have relatively low naturalization rates, so the large Mexican immigrant population has proportionately fewer elderly immigrants than it might otherwise have.

Few Europeans, except for those from formerly socialist countries such as Russia, immigrate to the United States today. In contrast, Europeans dominated immigration in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. These immigrants became naturalized citizens, raised their families in the United States, and assimilated economically. Today, in advanced old age, their social and economic circumstances look very much like that of their native-born American counterparts, particularly in terms of their receipt of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Economic circumstances

Although they are generally younger than seniors from the earlier European immigration waves, recent older immigrants are not as well-off economically. In the sixty-five-and-older population, in 1990, those who immigrated during the 1980s were twice as likely to live in poverty as were all older Americans. By and large, recent elderly immigrants lack the human capital education, English fluency, U.S.-based work experience, and good healththat would make them employable in the skills-based U.S. economy. In 1991, immigrating parents of U.S. citizens had completed only 7.4 years of schooling, on average, versus 12.7 years for all immigrants age 25 and older. Not surprisingly, less than 1 percent of permanent immigrants age fifty-five and older was admitted on an employment preference visa in 1996. Of those age sixty-five and older, almost nine out of ten immigrants are not in the labor force, a figure comparable to that for native-born seniors.

Lacking U.S. employment experience, older immigrants are not likely to qualify for Social Security, except perhaps as dependents of U.S. workers. According to the 1998 and 1999 Current Population Surveys, only 31 percent of persons age sixty-five and older who immigrated after 1990 received Social Security, compared to 78 percent of older long-term immigrants and 91 percent of native-born seniors. Since Social Security is a mainstay of retirement income, it is not surprising that older immigrants rely more heavily on public assistancethe surveys found that among recent immigrants, 24 percent received means-tested Supplemental Security Income (SSI), compared to 13 percent of their long-term counterparts and only 3 percent of native-born seniors.

In response to the growing numbers of aliens collecting SSI, Congress tightened eligibility requirements with the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Assuming they meet strict income and asset limits, legal aliens who are blind, disabled, or sixty-five years of age and older are eligible for SSI only if they are recent refugees or have worked forty quarters under Social Security-covered employment. SSI rules create an incentive for legal aliens to become citizens, but the requirements, particularly the knowledge of English, discourage older immigrants from naturalizing. In 1990, 41 percent of older people who had immigrated during the 1980s spoke no English. Whether the new SSI provisions will actually discourage elderly immigration remains to be seen.

Family ties

Because of their limited economic resources, people who immigrate in old age usually depend on their children for support. Beginning in December 1997, new immigration rules reinforced family support obligations. Not only must the household income of those sponsoring a family member's immigration be at least 125 percent of the poverty line, but also the required affidavit of support is now a legally enforceable contract. Shared housing is one way for kin to support elderly immigrants. In contrast to the intimacy at a distance that characterizes native-born seniors, elderly immigrants are apt to live with offspring rather than independently. Coresidence may benefit the younger generation as much as, or more than, the older generation, because the older immigrant often assumes responsibility for childcare and housekeeping in a child's home.

Some parents are, in fact, invited to immigrate by their grown children so that they can help out around the house. Cultural expectations for family togetherness and kin eldercare may also dictate that aging parents and grown children live in close proximity. Immigrant families are more likely than native-born Americans to rely on family care of the dependent aged, as opposed to formal means of support. Hispanic and Asian immigrants age sixty and older are even more likely than older, non-Hispanic white immigrants to reside with other family members. This relation is independent of economic resources, English-language fluency, and disability.

Although older immigrants maintain close family ties, their adjustment to life in the United States can be slow, and is sometimes painful. Older people who are recent immigrants are at particular risk of depression. Age-related cognitive and physical limitations (e.g., mobility restrictions) can impede assimilation and acculturation. Structural aspects of the life course also contribute to elderly isolation. Unlike younger people, older immigrants are not exposed to the English language or to American customs in the school and workplace. Ethnic communities, where older immigrants can interact with other elderly people from their native land, can offer a comfortable accommodation for those who immigrate late in life. A growing number of older immigrants require specialized social service programs to address their particular needs in a culturally appropriate manner.

Judith Treas Michael Tyler

See also Aging in Place; Intergenerational Exchanges.


Black, S. A.; Markides, K. S.; and Miller, T. Q. "Correlates of Depressive Symptomatology among Older Community-Dwelling Mexican-Americans: The Hispanic EPESE." Journals of Gerontology 53 (1998): S198.

Gold, S. J. Refugee Communities: A Comparative Field Study. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1992.

Jasso, G.; Massey, D. S.; Rosenberg, M. R.; and Smith, J. P. "The New Immigrant Pilot (NIS-P): Overview and New Findings about U.S. Legal Immigrants at Admission." Demography 37 (2000): 127138.

Kritz, M. M.; Gurak, D. T.; and Chen, L. W. "Elderly Immigrants: Their Composition and Living Arrangements." Sociology and Social Welfare 27 (2000): 85114.

Min, P. G. Changes and Conflicts: Korean Families in New York. Boston, Mass.: Allyn Bacon, 1998.

Moon, A.; Lubben, J. E.; and Villa, V. "Awareness and Utilization of Community Long-Term Care Services by Elderly Korean and Non-Hispanic White Americans." The Gerontologist 38 (1998): 309316.

Treas, J. "Older Americans in the 1990s and Beyond." Population Bulletin 50 (1995): 145.

Treas, J. "Older Immigrants and U.S. Welfare Reform." International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 17 (1997): 833.

Treas, J., and Torrecilha, R. "The Older Population." In State of the Union: America in the 1980s, Vol. 1. Edited by Reynolds Farley. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1995. Pages 4791.

U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Replacement Migration: Is It a Solution to Declining and Ageing Populations? New York: United Nations, 2000.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1996. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997.

Van Hook, J. "SSI Eligibility and Participation among Elderly Naturalized Citizens and Noncitizens." Social Science Research 29 (2000): 5167.

Wilmoth, J. "Living Arrangements Among Older Immigrants in the United States." The Gerontologist 41 (2000): 228238.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigrants." Encyclopedia of Aging. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigrants." Encyclopedia of Aging. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigrants." Encyclopedia of Aging. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from







Immigration studies have yet to reach a consensus on which kinds of human movements constitute immigration. This entry uses the term in its broadest sense, referring to peoples temporary or permanent movements and geographic relocation or displacement across political boundaries.


Throughout history, immigration has been an important social force shaped by the world as well as shaping it. In Global Transformations (1998), David Held et al. delineate three phases of migration: premodern, modern, and contemporary migration. In the premodern societies, mass migration was instrumental to the formation of states, particularly in Asia but also in other parts of the world. Modern migration started from the fifteenth century and occurred in three major immigrant flows: (1) European settlers, or the first mass migrants, primarily sponsored by the states, to North America; (2) chattel slaves from Africa to North America, the largest forced migration in human history; and (3) indentured Asian laborers, or the coolie system, which replaced chattel slavery in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Contemporary migration is said to have started after World War II (19391945). In the contemporary era, major migration flows were not only to North America but also to Europe, Australasia, and the Middle East. Among the immigrant populations of the contemporary era were increasing numbers of refugees as a result of wars, localized poverty, and political persecution.

Many scholars, including Joaquin Arango (2004) and Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller (2003), also note that immigration since the 1970s has taken on distinct features. First, nation-states have exercised more control over immigration, drawing an increasingly more pronounced line between desired and undesired immigrants. On the one hand, there is state-engineered competition for skilled labor, particularly among traditional destination countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States. On the other hand, border controls, mainly directed at immigrants deemed illegal, have been intensified. Despite the increased border control, however, human trafficking has become more salient. The second character of the latest immigration movements is the increasing number of actors shaping immigration flows. Attempts to manage international immigration have been coming from different levels of society, ranging from transnational immigrant communities to the United Nations. The third feature of the current migration trends is the changing demography of immigrants. Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans have gradually replaced the Europeans as the major immigrant population. In addition, the gendered composition of immigrants has changed. Women now account for around 50 percent of the total immigrant population. As well, more women than before move as independent immigrants. Whereas this change remains merely a statistical fact to many scholars, it has compelled others to try to bring women back into the history of immigration, which has largely been written in a gender-neutral or genderless tradition. A good example is the book Women, Gender, and Labour Migration: Historical and Global Perspectives (2001), edited by Pamela Sharpe, which offers perspectives on immigration that take gender into account.


The complex social phenomenon of human movements has spurred much theorizing about the causes and consequences of immigration. The three major theoretical approaches informing immigrant studies are the economic equilibrium approach, the historical-structural approach, and the migration system theory.

The economic equilibrium approach, also known as the push-and-pull theory, is the dominant perspective in the literature of immigrant studies, according to Castles and Miller. The major tenet of this approach is that immigration is the summation of human agency and an outcome of peoples rational cost-and-benefit calculations. Factors pushing immigrants to leave typically include poverty and political repression; factors pulling immigrants away from their origins are often better economic opportunities and political freedom. George Borjas (1989) presents a modern version of the equilibrium approach. He proposes a conception of an immigrant market wherein immigrants, instead of commodities, are exchanged. According to Borjas, individual people are utility maximizers responsive to the call of an immigrant market. That is, immigration is regarded as a mechanism through which an optimum distribution of land, labor, capital, and natural resources can be achieved and the social-economic equilibrium of different places can be established.

Whereas the equilibrium approach takes individuals decisions as its units of analysis, the historical-structural approach locates the reasons and results of immigration in the macroeconomic and political structures of the world. As Castles and Miller point out, this approach is informed by Marxist political economy and the world system theory. It posits that contemporary immigration is a social process that mobilizes cheap labor for capital and thereby helps to sustain the capitalist mode of production in the era of globalization. From the perspective of the world system theory, immigration is considered a new link between developed and developing nations, which were previously connected through colonial occupation or other forms of domination. As the new link, immigration perpetuates the asymmetrical power relationship between the two.

The migration system theory is an attempt to capture all factors affecting the movements of people. A migration system is constituted by two or more countries involved in peoples movements. This theory directs researchers attention to the micro, macro, and meso aspects of migration, as well as historical conditions contributing to migration. Similar to the historical-structural approach, it suggests that prior links between immigrant sending and receiving countries, such as colonial domination, military occupation, trade, and investment, all help to lead to peoples migration movements between these countries. At the macro level, international relations, interstate relations, and immigration and other state policies are important incentives or disincentives to migration. At the meso level, the migration system theory is interested in the roles of individuals, groups, or institutions that mediate peoples movements. At the micro level, the theory addresses informal networks such as family and community connections that facilitate immigration. In recent years, the new links between transnational communities, in particular, have given rise to a new area of study on transnationalism, according to Castles and Miller.


While insightful, each of the approaches proposed has significant limitations. A major critique of the equilibrium approach comes from Charles Wood (1982). Wood points out that, first of all, immigration movement has not brought about the anticipated social-economic equilibrium. Rather, recent decades have witnessed increased disparities in regional development. Second, the ahistorical nature of the approach is problematic. The notion of a free market, on which the whole approach is based, is not the empirical truth in all societies at all historical moments. Finally, with a sole focus on micro-level decision making, this approach misses the large social conditions conducive to the movements of people.

In contrast, the historical-structural approach is mainly criticized for failing to explain how the immigration decision comes about for individual actors, as discussed by Wood and also by Castles and Miller. As well, the consequences of immigration as proposed in the historical-structural approach are uni-dimensional and deterministic. Movements of people may not necessarily lead to deprivation in one country and capitalization in the other. Immigrants may bring multiple effects on both the sending and receiving countries. The central problem with this approach is that it reduces people to labor caught up in the capitalization process on a global scale, rather than treating them as human beings with diverse needs and interests.

Epistemologically, the above two approaches are distinct from each other; whereas the former is functionalist in nature, seeing immigration as a means to social harmony, the latter construes immigration as a force adding to social inequalities and conflicts. Despite the differences, there is no doubt that both approaches illuminate some facets of immigration while disregarding others. For instance, neither of them has addressed the facilities and material conditions that contribute to or contain the movements of people. The migration system theory is advantageous to the others in that it focuses on all key dimensions of immigration. However, despite its promise for a holistic understanding of immigration, the migration system theory does not offer a means of interpretation.

In addition to the problems associated with each approach, there are significant issues related to how the phenomenon of immigration is approached in general. First of all, immigration is often considered an aberration that needs to be corrected or a problem that needs to be addressed. The fact that immigration is an integral part of human history has not been registered in the conceptual underpinning of studies on immigration. Second, studies tend to focus on why people move instead of why few people move or why the majority of human populations are not free to move, according to Arango. Posing the alternative questions makes it necessary to critically consider the roles that nation-states play in controlling or restraining peoples movements, which have yet to be deeply interrogated. Third, immigration studies mainly center on labor migration. Refugees and the so-called illegal and undesired immigrants remain at the margin of immigrant research. Finally, while immigration studies have started to address the issue of gender, insufficient attention has been paid to how the increasing presence of immigrant women engenders political, economic, and cultural changes in both sending and receiving countries.

SEE ALSO Immigrants to North America; Immigrants, Asian; Immigrants, Black; Immigrants, European; Immigrants, Latin American; Immigrants, New York City; Migration; Refugees; Settlement; Transnationalism


Arango, Joaquin. 2004. Theories of International Migration. In International Migration in the New Millennium: Global Movement and Settlement, ed. Danièle Joly, 1535. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Borjas, George. 1989. Economic Theory and International Migration. International Migration Review 23 (3): 457478.

Castles, Stephen, and Mark J. Miller. 2003. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. 3rd ed. New York: Guilford Press.

Held, David, Anthony G. McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton. 1998. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Sharpe, Pamela, ed. 2001. Women, Gender, and Labour Migration: Historical and Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Wood, Charles. 1982. Equilibrium and Historical-Structural Perspectives on Migration. International Migration Review 16 (2): 298319.

Hongxia Shan

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigration." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigration." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigration." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from




Newcomers. Two related developments brought a new sense of urgency to the work of reformers during the years between 1840 and 1860. First, a trend in the migration of Americans from rural areas to the cities of the Northeast (a product of industrialization) was already well under way by midcentury, leading to increased public concern over the growing concentrations of poor people in urban areas. These concerns were compounded after the mid 1840s, however, by the influx of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants into cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Of the two main sources of immigration during this period, Ireland and Germany, the Irish made up the vast majority of newcomers. Successive failures of the potato crop in Ireland had reduced its population by half between 1845 and 1855: up to two million died of hunger and another two million immigrated, many of them to the port cities of North America. The most striking feature of this wave of immigration was the sheer poverty of its participants: no other contemporaneous migration, historian Oscar Handlin wrote in Bostons Immigrants (1959), partook so fully of. . . poverty-stricken helplessness. According to one contemporary observer, many of the new immigrants had left Ireland with barely the passage money and landed . . . without a single penny. Under the impact of this new influx, the population of Boston grew by a third between 1840 and 1850, and the result was increased strain on public and private institutions and panic on the part of descendants of the Puritans that their society would be overwhelmed by an alien culture.

A New Challenge. In every major northern city, the sudden influx of immigrants forced an additional burden upon common-school reformers: the success of their project would be judged not only by its ability to defuse the tensions arising out of industrialization, but by its effectiveness in sustaining Americas cultural identity in

the face of massive immigration. The problem of visible, urban poverty and social conflict, one historian has pointed out, took on a much more troubling character as it came to be associated with religious and cultural differences. Against a backdrop of increasingly strident anti-immigrant prejudice, Horace Mann and others endeavored, from the late 1840s onward, to point out the utility of common schools as vehicles for assimilating the immigrant and welding a national identity out of the increasingly diverse populace.

Secular Education. Mann had anticipated one of the potential flashpoints for conflict that would arise after 1850sectarian conflict over religious instruction in the classroomand, in the process, had established an important precedent by winning support for religiously neutral schooling well in advance of the peak in immigration. In his Twelfth Annual Report (1848) Mann pointed out that more than half of all children enrolled in Bostons primary schools were from immigrant families. The vast majority of these were Irish and Catholic, Mann noted, reinforcing his view that the schools must observe a careful neutrality in religious matters. Otherwise, he argued, these youngsters would be lost to public education and the job of assimilating them made much more difficult, if not altogether impossible. His policy faced hostility from two sources: evangelical Protestants feared that the advent of secularism in the schools would lead to moral and social collapse. Spokesmen for the Catholic Church objected that the formal purge of Protestantism from the schools was not sufficient: in their eyes the schools remained bastions of anti-Catholicism, and, as an example, they pointed out the standard use of the Protestant King James Version of the Bible in the classroom. While large numbers of Irish immigrant children

attended public schools in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia throughout this period, their religious leaders operated Sunday schools to compensate for the lack of Catholic instruction and were busy constructing an autonomous system of parochial, or religious, schools.

Accommodation. Determined to bring immigrant children into the public schools, educational reformers displayed a flexible sensitivity toward Catholic fears of religious domination. In the industrial mill city of Lowell, Massachusetts, for example, educators had reached an agreement with church leaders whereby the town funded two Catholic schools. The public School Committee would examine and hire teachers, and the books used would be those prescribed for other schools, but the teachers would be Catholic and the books would contain no facts not accepted by the church and no remarks reflecting upon Catholicism. This system was in effect until 1852 but collapsed under the weight of growing anti-immigrant sentiment. Still, Manns associate John Green wrote from Lowell that the experiment had been a success: the Irish may be found in every school in the city in considerable numbers.... By 1856 Catholic schools had been discontinued in nearby Lawrence, and public officials there noted that 2,279 of their students had been received into the public schools.

Compulsory Attendance. The effectiveness of the public schools as vehicles for assimilation was greatly hampered, reformers believed, by the high absentee rates among immigrant children. It was during this period, therefore, that the first compulsory-school-attendance laws began to be passed by state and local legislatures. Prior to the 1850s, lawmakers shied away from any measure that might be viewed as interfering with individual parents prerogatives with respect to child rearing. But any remaining qualms were overwhelmed by the flood of immigration at midcentury and the sense of an impending social crisis. Barnas Sears, secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, expressed his concern in 1851 that The non-attendance of a part of those children for whose benefit the Public Schools are especially intended, particularly the children of foreigners in our large cities and manufacturing towns, is assuming a fearful importance; and it will not be safe long to delay such measures as may be necessary to avert the impending danger. A year later Sears secured a partial solution to the attendance problem: the state passed the first compulsory-attendance laws in the nation, and a corps of truant officers was dispatched through the major cities to keep school-age children off the streets.

Bilingual Education. While the religious question constituted an important obstacle in efforts to assimilate the Irish, another difficult problem arose in relation to immigrants from Germany and elsewhere: how to overcome the language barrier. In Boston no special language provisions had to be made for immigrant children during this period, but elsewherein New York, Chicago, and San Francisco

reformers launched the first efforts at bilingual education in what they considered a necessary concession to bring the children of immigrants into the public schools. Before San Francisco schools began offering classes in French and German, the superintendent there recalled in 1877, hundreds of children of foreign parents were attending private schools in order that they might receive instruction in the language of their Tatherland. Now they are found under the care of American teachers, and are being molded in the true form of American citizenship. In Chicago school officials began holding classes in German in an effort to draw students away from the private schools . . . to be found in every nook and corner of the city, hoping thereby that the children of all nationalities would be assembled in the public schools, and thereby be radically Americanized. By the end of this period, eight states in the Union permitted some form of bilingual education, establishing an important precedent for the next wave of immigration toward the end of the century.


Charles Leslie Glenn Jr., The Myth of the Common School (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988);

Oscar Handlin, Bostons Immigrants: A Study in Acculturation (New York: Atheneum, 1959);

David K. Schultz, The Culture Factory: Boston Public Schools, 17891860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigration." American Eras. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigration." American Eras. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigration." American Eras. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from

Immigration (Issue)


Immigration is the influx of people to a country or region which is different from their country of birth. In the United States, immigration has been a basic part of life at least since the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 and remains part of American life today. One of the truisms of U.S. history, then, would seem to be that all Americans are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.

While the early white settlers of America were largely English, there were significant numbers from other areas including Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in the British Isles, various German states, French Huguenots, as well as Dutch and Swedes who were absorbed when their settlements became English colonies. With the exception of the Huguenots who settled in Massachusetts and South Carolina, most of the non-English settlers were in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Immigration can be voluntary or involuntary. Africans, too, represented a significant portion of the immigrant colonial population, especially in Virginia and South Carolina. However, immigration was not a clear concept in the colonial period when all of the colonies were being settled. In fact, prior to 1820, no statistics were kept on immigration and regulation was largely left to the states. In that year the Department of State began to keep statistics. Thus, in the sense that immigration is an observed and recorded phenomenon, it can be said to have begun in the United States around 1820.

Emigration (the outflow of people from the country of origin) was characterized by two factorspush and pull. Push is shorthand for the various reasons people might want or need to leave their home country; the pull consists of the attractions that the United States offered. Famine, religious persecution, failed revolutions, and war have been strong factors "pushing" emigrants toward the United States. Low-cost land in the late nineteenth century, religious and political freedom, and economic opportunity have been the major "pull" factors which helped immigrants (people of foreign heritage newly-landed in the United States) achieve the promise of success in their new country.

U.S. immigration can be divided into several distinct phases based on the origins of those entering the country. Immigrants from the British Isles, including Ireland, and Germany heavily dominated the "old" phase of immigration, prior to the 1890s. The "new" immigration phase, from the 1890s to 1920, saw large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. From 1920 to 1965 there were nationality quota limitations on the number of emigrants from a particular country entering the United States each year. The post-1965 period continued limitations on the numbers entering the country each year, but abandoned nationality quotas.

Between 1830 and 1880 some 9 million people entered the United States. Most were from western and northern Europe. Irish and Germans were the two most identifiable groups, although equally large numbers came from Great Britain and smaller but steadily increasing numbers from Scandinavia. Repeated failure of the potato crop in Ireland beginning in the mid-1840s and the failure of the 1848 revolutions in Europe were events that led to dramatic increases in migration.

Many immigrants entered the United States through Castle Garden, New York City's immigration depot. In 1864 Congress established the Bureau of Immigration, but it was primarily concerned with collecting statistics. In 1882 the first comprehensive, national immigration law was passed, but primary responsibility still lay with the states. In 1891 Congress established immigration as a federal responsibility and established formal procedures and standards for admission to the U.S. Since most immigrants were entering the country through the port of New York a processing center was established at Ellis Island in 1892.

Between 1880 and the outbreak of World War I (19141918) 25 million people entered the United States. Beginning in the late 1880s increasing numbers of immigrants derived from eastern and southern Europe. They were Italians, Poles, Russian and other eastern European Jews. These "new" immigrants supplemented rather than replaced emigration from northern and western Europe, which continued as before. The new immigrants were overwhelmingly non-Protestant and few spoke English. The new immigrants triggered concerns about the future character of the United States and how such different groups could be assimilated. There was also concern about Asian immigrants that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Gentlemen's Agreement between the United States and Japan in 1907. These concerns first led to demands for a literacy test for immigrants that was enacted over President Woodrow Wilson's (19131921) veto in 1917 and the establishment of quotas for various nationality groups based on the 1890 census, first enacted on a temporary basis in 1920.

The quota system was made permanent in 1924 and governed entry into the United States for forty years. Some countries rarely filled their quotas while others, in central eastern and southern Europe, often had long waiting lists. Latin American, Caribbean, African and Asian countries had minuscule quotas. The quota represented a significant reduction in the number of people allowed into the country. Between 1925 and 1929 the total quota was 164,667 people per year, a striking contrast to the 1.2 million immigrants in 1914, the last year before World War I. Some exceptions were made to the quotas for refugees from World War II through the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the McCarren-Walter Act (1952), but total immigration remained well below pre-quota levels.

In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act ended the national origin quota system and established new criteria for admission to the United States based on the need for certain skills in the workforce, refugee status, and the reunification of families. The changing nature of immigration is clear from the comparison between the origins of immigrants since 1820 and the origins of those arriving between 1981 and 1996. Seven out of the top ten nationalities represented in the emigration from 1820 to 1981 were EuropeanGermany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the former Soviet Union, Austria, and Hungary. The others are Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines. In contrast, no European nation appears in the list of most common nation of origin from 1981 to 1996. This group is dominated by Mexico, with nearly a quarter of all emigrants, along with Asian and Caribbean nations.

See also: Tenements


Bodnar, John. The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985.

Handlin, Oscar. The Uprooted. Boston, MS: Little, Brown and Company, 1951.

Hansen, Marcus Lee. The Atlantic Migration, 1607 1860: A History of the Continuing Settlement of the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940.

Marzio, Peter C. ed. A Nation of Nations. New York; Harper and Row, 1976.

Reimers, David. Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Thernstrom, Stephan, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigration (Issue)." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigration (Issue)." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigration (Issue)." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from




Irish Catholics . Most Irish immigrants who came to the United States in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were Scots-Irish Protestants, many of whom possessed education, skills, and some capital. As the population soared in southern and western Ireland and small holdings became increasingly subdivided, by the 1830s more Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States. Although these young men and women who traveled across the Atlantic may have hoped to become landowning farmers, most of them found work as day laborers and domestic servants. As a result of the great potato famine of the late 1840s 1.5 million people left Ireland for the United States; most were destitute farmers, cottiers, and laborers, and about half of them arrived in family groups including children. Famine immigrants were mostly Catholic, and one-fourth to one-third were Gaelic-speaking; unaccustomed to an urban industrial society, they struggled to survive in Northeastern cities. About 85 percent of them were unskilled, and as a result, men found work mostly as laborers, driving carts, working in construction, or traveling to western areas to build railroads and dig canals. Women and children found work in small shops or joined the labor force in Eastern textile mills. In the 1840s Catholic priests began to protest the Protestant message taught in American public schools and nativist issues infused local politics. As the clergy struggled to church the famine immigrants in the context of inflamed nativism in the 1850s, Irish Americans began to create distinct ethnic communities and separate Catholic institutions. Much of this communitybuilding was done by women as nuns provided social services and founded parochial schools for girls. Parish schools for girls preceded those for boys and more girls attended them while boys attended public schools.

Catholic Schools in the West . By mid century Catholics began to create new schools in the West. Existing educational institutions, such as the eighteenth-century French Ursuline Convent in New Orleans and schools conducted by the Sisters of Charity in St. Louis, were joined by parochial and industrial schools taught by such groups as the Sisters of Notre Dame or the Sisters of Mercy. Arriving in the United States from Ireland in 1843, the Sisters of Mercy migrated from Eastern cities to Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Sacramento in the 1850s, where they provided community hospitals, social services, and protection for destitute women. The Sisters of Notre Dame conducted a boarding school for girls in San Jose, California, by 1851. Girls, who were taught reading, writing, and fine needlework by nuns, internalized a Catholic domesticity, which they, in turn, as mothers, transmitted to their children. Yet many Irish girls also learned middle-class values through their employment as domestic servants. Although Irish American community leaders considered service in Protestant homes a threat to Catholic religious life, these immigrant girls learned middle-class attitudes and behaviors that, in turn, also influenced their communities and eventually their children.

German Immigrants. As immigration rose to unprecedented levels in the 1840s and 1850s, 1.5 million Germans also entered the United States. Propelled in the 1830s by population growth and deterioration in crafts in home kingdoms, duchies, and provinces and by potato blight and the failed political revolution of 1848, German craftsmen, small proprietors, and laborers arrived alone or with their families. Although these immigrants settled in Northeastern cities from New York to Baltimore, many also traveled railroad lines, canals, and rivers to the Midwest, forming a German-belt that would eventually extend from Ohio to Nebraska and Missouri to Wisconsin. Most Germans brought with them a strong patriarchal tradition, yet many also espoused the liberal and democratic values of political movements fighting autocracy in Europe. Craftsmen and small-property owners who founded German organizations such as the Turnvereine expressed ideals of progressive democracy that were radical in mid-nineteenth-century America. Although German Catholics and both conservative and evangelical Lutherans favored parochial education, many of these immigrants were staunch supporters of American secular public schools. German Americans often advocated bilingual education, and they pressed for instruction in the German language. Legislatures passed laws permitting the teaching of German in public schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio before 1840, and in some remote areas in the West, such as rural Missouri, local school boards initiated German instruction in common schools without legal authorization.

A German Immigrants Experience

In the American West, German immigrant families had varied options for the education of their children. Some families designated at least one child to become proficient in English. A tenant farmer named Wilhelm Stille emigrated from Lengerich in Westphalia with some of his siblings in 1833 and settled on an eighty-acre farm in Ohio. His sister Wilhelmina and her husband Wilhelm Krumme bought eighty additional acres across the Ohio River. Ten years later Stille had lost through death his firstborn child, his nineteen-year-old brother Rudolph, and his sister, Wilhelmina who left a three-year-old son, Johann. Wilhelm Krumme boarded his son with strangers and wrote to his in-laws in Wesphalia to send his wifes inheritance. When Johann was seven, his father reported: [H]e now goes to the English school every day which costs 8 talers a year; he can already read pretty well, and I hope hell take a shine to learning so he wont have to do any heavy work. Three years later he wrote of his ten-year-old son: [H]e goes to school every day and hes a good pupil, that is in the English language since he can handle books fairly well but he doesnt know much German. Stilles sons would remain poor farmers, but Johann Krumme, assisted by money from his German relatives and his proficiency in English, assimilated into the American middle class. At the age of nineteen he clerked in a tobacco shop in Cincinnati; after marrying a native-born girl he advanced at the tobacco company to foreman and then to agent-salesman.

Source: Letters from Wilhelm Stille and Wilhelm Krumme to relatives in Westphalia, in News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home, edited by Walter D. Kemphoefner, Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer; translated by Susan Carter Vogel (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991).


Hasia R. Diner, Erins Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983);

Bruce Levine, The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992);

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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigrants." American Eras. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigrants." American Eras. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigrants." American Eras. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


immigration refers to settlement in a country not one's own. It has been a characteristic of the British Isles from earliest times, often through invasion and subsequent colonization, as well as through peaceful movements of individuals and groups. Historians can trace patterns of immigration from archaeological remains, and from the persistence of languages and place-names, as well as from historical records.

Celtic peoples came to the British Isles from the European mainland centuries before the Roman invasion of the 1st cent. ad. Celtic languages, Erse, Gaelic, Manx, and Welsh, continue to be spoken in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, and Wales. In Cornwall, the Celtic language was spoken until the 18th cent. and even now is preserved in Celtic literature. Within the areas where these languages were spoken there were often separate legal traditions, particularly concerning landownership.

In those areas of the British Isles which formed part of the Roman empire immigrants settled alongside the indigenous people. After the Roman empire collapsed in the 5th cent., Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from continental Europe moved into most of what had been the Roman provinces. They were followed between the 9th and 11th cents. by Scandinavian immigrants, many of whom settled in the Danelaw, those parts which became Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, and Nottinghamshire as well as further north, particularly Yorkshire.

The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought settlers from various parts of northern continental Europe. Many continued to use the French language and maintained cultural and dynastic ties with their former homelands. Initially their prestige and military power set them apart. However, by the 14th cent. they had mingled with the indigenous population to such an extent that Anglo-Saxon and French had blended to form the English language and, in various arts, including architecture, distinctive English styles had emerged.

Some groups of immigrants remained identifiable. For example the Jews, who arrived in Britain after the Normans, kept their religious and ethnic differences, but were dependent on royal protection to keep them from persecution. In addition Jews were forbidden to hold land and undertake a variety of trades and often they made their living by money-lending, an activity nominally forbidden for Christians. In 1297 Edward I expelled the Jews, after he had exploited their financial resources. Although it is not known whether all Jews left the country, there are records of Jews active as doctors in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. However, they did not receive religious toleration until the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th cent. After that time there were further immigrations as a result of persecutions, particularly in the Russian empire during the 19th cent., and the Nazi regime in Germany during the 1930s. Other minorities have also settled in the British Isles. gypsies first came to Britain in the 15th cent., and in the 16th and 17th cents. numbers of protestant Christians came to England fleeing from persecution by Roman catholics in Europe. Amongst these the largest identifiable group was the Huguenots, who left France because of the hostility of Louis XIV. They brought with them economically important craft skills relating to silk textiles and created for themselves positions of wealth and prestige in their adopted country. Starting in the 17th and continuing into the 18th cent. black slaves were brought to Britain. Their number is unknown and their history has only recently attracted any attention.

To a considerable extent immigration during the later 19th and 20th cents. was characterized by the recruitment of workers with skills which were in demand. For example, a shortage of clerical labour in London gave rise to the recruitment of German clerks, as well as well-educated Germans who could develop applications of science and technology in industrial chemicals. Similarly in the 20th cent. after the Second World War labour shortages at all levels prompted the recruitment of workers from the Commonwealth and former empire, such as the West Indies, the Indian subcontinent, and western Africa. These workers were recruited to vacancies in a range of occupations in the health service, in public transport, in local government, as well as in textiles and heavy engineering.

Since the 1960s the right of immigrants to settle in Britain has been subject to ever stricter political control focused on the definition of citizenship. The period after the Second World War was also marked by the immigration of refugees and others from communist-dominated societies in eastern and central Europe. See also asylum.

Ian John Ernest Keil

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigration." The Oxford Companion to British History. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigration." The Oxford Companion to British History. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigration." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important. High rates of immigration are frequently accompanied by militant, and sometimes violent, calls for immigration restriction or deportation by nationalist groups. See also naturalization.

Immigration in the United States

From 1820 to 1930, the United States received about 60% of the world's immigrants. Population expansion in developed areas of the world, improved methods of transportation, and U.S. desire to populate available space were all factors in this phenomenon. Through the 19th cent., the United States was in the midst of agricultural, then industrial, expansion. The desire for cheap, unskilled labor and the profits to be made importing immigrants fueled the movement. Immigrants were largely responsible for the rapid development of the country, and their high birthrates did much to swell the U.S. population. Often, however, immigrants formed distinct ethnic neighborhoods, tending to remain somewhat isolated from the wider culture. Frequently exploited, some immigrants were accused by organized labor of lowering wages and living standards, though other groups of immigrants rapidly became mainstays of the labor movement. Opposition was early manifested by such organizations as the Know-Nothing movement and in violent anti-Chinese riots on the West Coast.

Restrictions placed on immigration were often based on race or nationality. There were also restrictions against the entrance of diseased persons, paupers, and other undesirables, and laws were passed for the deportation of aliens. The first permanent quota law was passed in 1924; it also provided for a national origins plan to be put into effect in 1929. In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act (the McCarran-Walter Act) was passed; while abolishing race as an overall barrier to immigration, it kept particular forms of national bias. The act was amended in 1965, abolishing the national origins quota. Despite overall limits, immigration to the United States has burgeoned since 1965, and the 1980s saw the highest level of new immigrants since the first decade of the 20th cent.

In 1986, Congress passed legislation that sought to limit the numbers of undocumented or illegal aliens living in America, imposing stiff fines on employers who hired them and giving legal status to a number of aliens who had already lived in the United States for some time. The Immigration Act of 1990 raised the total quota for immigrants and reorganized the preference system for entrance. The 1996 Illegal Immigration and Reform Responsibility Act led to massive deportations of illegal immigrants. Its provisions were later softened under political and legal attack, but a stricter approach to immigrants in general was adopted by the government following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

A number of states have also enacted legislation designed to combat illegal immigration. The state laws appear not to have led to any significant convictions, but in some cases they have increased tensions with the local Hispanic minority and led to a migration of Hispanics, whether illegal immigrants or not, from the state. A 2012 Supreme Court decision concerning Arizona's law largely reserved to the federal government the right to enact and enforce immigration law while permitting state law enforcement officers to review a person's immigration status.

Immigration in Other Countries

Canada, in the first third of the 20th cent., began to receive an increasing number of immigrants, attracted by the expansion of agriculture in the west and the development of industry in the east. Australia and New Zealand received many European immigrants in the 19th cent.; the former country has been characterized by a preference for immigrants of British stock and by a policy of excluding Africans and Asians that dated from the late 19th cent. After 1965, however, this policy began to change; by the 1970s Australia had abandoned the system of racial preferences, and Asian immigration rapidly increased. Two major trends in immigration emerged after World War II: Australia and New Zealand became the countries with the highest rates of increase, and large numbers of Europeans immigrated to Africa. In recent decades, immigration to Europe from Asia and Africa has also substantially increased, as has emigration from Eastern Europe to the newly reunified Germany.


See studies by M. R. Davie (1983), I. Glazier and L. DeRosa (1986), V. N. Sinha (1987), D. R. Steiner (1987), and A. Richmond (1988).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigration." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigration." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigration." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


immigration In genetics, the movement or flow of genes into a population, caused by immigrating individuals which interbreed with the residents. This is the usual source of new variation in a population, although the fundamental sources of all variation are gene mutation and recombination. See also migration.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigration." A Dictionary of Ecology. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigration." A Dictionary of Ecology. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigration." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


immigration In genetics, the movement or flow of genes into a population, caused by immigrating individuals which interbreed with the residents. This is the usual source of new variation in a population, although the fundamental sources of all variation are gene mutation and recombination. See also MIGRATION.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigration." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigration." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigration." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


immigration In genetics, the movement or flow of genes into a population, caused by immigrating individuals which interbreed with the residents. This is the usual source of new variation in a population, although the fundamental sources of all variation are gene mutation and recombination. See also MIGRATION.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigration." A Dictionary of Zoology. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigration." A Dictionary of Zoology. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigration." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


im·mi·grant / ˈimigrənt/ • n. a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. ∎ Biol. an animal or plant living or growing in a region to which it has migrated.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigrant." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigrant." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigrant." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from



The entrance into a country of foreigners for purposes of permanent residence. The correlative term emigration denotes the act of such persons in leaving their former country.



Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Immigration." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Immigration." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . (January 19, 2018).

"Immigration." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigration." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigration." A Dictionary of Sociology. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigration." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from


immigrantabeyant, mayn't •ambient, circumambient •gradient, irradiant, radiant •expedient, ingredient, mediant, obedient •valiant • salient • resilient • emollient •defoliant • ebullient • suppliant •convenient, intervenient, lenient, prevenient •sapient •impercipient, incipient, percipient, recipient •recreant • variant • miscreant •Orient • nutrient •esurient, luxuriant, parturient, prurient •nescient, prescient •omniscient • insouciant • renunciant •officiant • negotiant • deviant •subservient • transient •affiant, Bryant, client, compliant, defiant, giant, pliant, reliant •buoyant, clairvoyant, flamboyant •fluent, pursuant, truant •affluent • effluent • mellifluent •confluent • circumfluent • congruent •issuant • continuant • constituent •lambent • absorbent •incumbent, recumbent •couchant • merchant • hadn't •ardent, guardant, regardant •pedant •appendant, ascendant, attendant, codependent, defendant, descendant, descendent, intendant, interdependent, pendant, pendent, splendent, superintendent, transcendent •antecedent, decedent, needn't, precedent •didn't • diffident • confident •accident • dissident •coincident, incident •oxidant • evident •improvident, provident •president, resident •strident, trident •co-respondent, correspondent, despondent, fondant, respondent •accordant, concordant, discordant, mordant, mordent •rodent •imprudent, jurisprudent, prudent, student •couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't •impudent •abundant, redundant •decadent • verdant • infant • elephant •triumphant • sycophant • elegant •fumigant • congregant • litigant •termagant • arrogant • extravagant •pageant •cotangent, plangent, tangent •argent, Sargent, sergeant •agent • newsagent • regent •astringent, contingent, stringent •indigent • intelligent • negligent •diligent • intransigent • exigent •cogent •effulgent, fulgent, indulgent •pungent •convergent, detergent, divergent, emergent, insurgent, resurgent, urgent •bacchant • peccant • vacant • piquant •predicant • mendicant • significant •applicant • supplicant • communicant •lubricant • desiccant • intoxicant •gallant, talent •appellant, propellant, propellent, repellent, water-repellent •resemblant •assailant, inhalant •sealant • sibilant • jubilant •flagellant • vigilant • pestilent •silent •Solent, volant •coolant • virulent • purulent •ambulant, somnambulant •coagulant • crapulent • flatulent •feculent • esculent • petulant •stimulant • flocculent • opulent •postulant • fraudulent • corpulent •undulant •succulent, truculent •turbulent • violent • redolent •indolent • somnolent • excellent •insolent • nonchalant •benevolent, malevolent, prevalent •ambivalent, equivalent •garment • clement • segment •claimant, clamant, payment, raiment •ailment •figment, pigment •fitment • aliment • element •oddment •dormant, informant •moment • adamant • stagnant •lieutenant, pennant, subtenant, tenant •pregnant, regnant •remnant • complainant •benignant, indignant, malignant •recombinant • contaminant •eminent •discriminant, imminent •dominant, prominent •illuminant, ruminant •determinant • abstinent •continent, subcontinent •appurtenant, impertinent, pertinent •revenant •component, deponent, exponent, opponent, proponent •oppugnant, repugnant •immanent •impermanent, permanent •dissonant • consonant • alternant •covenant • resonant • rampant •discrepant • flippant • participant •occupant • serpent •apparent, arrant, transparent •Arendt •aberrant, deterrent, errant, inherent, knight-errant •entrant •declarant, parent •grandparent • step-parent •godparent •flagrant, fragrant, vagrant •registrant • celebrant • emigrant •immigrant • ministrant • aspirant •antiperspirant • recalcitrant •integrant • tyrant • vibrant • hydrant •migrant, transmigrant •abhorrent, torrent, warrant •quadrant • figurant • obscurant •blackcurrant, concurrent, currant, current, occurrent, redcurrant •white currant • cross-current •undercurrent •adherent, coherent, sederunt •exuberant, protuberant •reverberant • denaturant •preponderant • deodorant •different, vociferant •belligerent, refrigerant •accelerant • tolerant • cormorant •itinerant • ignorant • cooperant •expectorant • adulterant •irreverent, reverent •nascent, passant •absent •accent, relaxant •acquiescent, adolescent, albescent, Besant, coalescent, confessant, convalescent, crescent, depressant, effervescent, erubescent, evanescent, excrescent, flavescent, fluorescent, immunosuppressant, incandescent, incessant, iridescent, juvenescent, lactescent, liquescent, luminescent, nigrescent, obsolescent, opalescent, pearlescent, phosphorescent, pubescent, putrescent, quiescent, suppressant, tumescent, turgescent, virescent, viridescent •adjacent, complacent, obeisant •decent, recent •impuissant, reminiscent •Vincent • puissant •beneficent, maleficent •magnificent, munificent •Millicent • concupiscent • reticent •docent •lucent, translucent •discussant, mustn't •innocent •conversant, versant •consentient, sentient, trenchant •impatient, patient •ancient • outpatient •coefficient, deficient, efficient, proficient, sufficient •quotient • patent •interactant, reactant •disinfectant, expectant, protectant •repentant • acceptant •contestant, decongestant •sextant •blatant, latent •intermittent •assistant, coexistent, consistent, distant, equidistant, existent, insistent, persistent, resistant, subsistent, water-resistant •instant •cohabitant, habitant •exorbitant • militant • concomitant •impenitent, penitent •palpitant • crepitant • precipitant •competent, omnicompetent •irritant • incapacitant • Protestant •hesitant • visitant • mightn't • octant •remontant • constant •important, oughtn't •accountant • potent •mutant, pollutant •adjutant • executant • disputant •reluctant •consultant, exultant, resultant •combatant • omnipotent • impotent •inadvertent •Havant, haven't, savant, savante •advent •irrelevant, relevant •pursuivant • solvent • convent •adjuvant •fervent, observant, servant •manservant • maidservant •frequent, sequent •delinquent • consequent •subsequent • unguent • eloquent •grandiloquent, magniloquent •brilliant • poignant • hasn't •bezant, omnipresent, peasant, pheasant, pleasant, present •complaisant • malfeasant • isn't •cognizant • wasn't • recusant •doesn't

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"immigrant." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

"immigrant." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (January 19, 2018).

"immigrant." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved January 19, 2018 from