Reading U4: Immigration Before Independence

Today's American Indians call themselves Native Americans, but in reality they were not natives here. Rather, they were the area's earliest immigrants. They came to the Western Hemisphere from Asia more than 20,000 years ago. By the century, there were 15 to 20 million Indians in the Americas. Perhaps as many as 700,000 were living within the present limits of the United States when Columbus discovered the New World (the Western Hemisphere) in 1492.
  During the 1500s, French and Spanish explorers visited the New World. But the first Europeans who came to stay were English. The first permanent colony in the U.S.A. was established in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 by 104 British colonists. In 1620, a second British colony, consisting of 102 people, was founded in Plymouth, Massachusetts. These were the beginning of a nation that, by 1988, had grown to 244 million.
  In 1790, the white population of the 13 original states totaled slightly more than three milion. About 75% of these first Americans were of British ancestry; the rest were German, Dutch, French, Swiss, and Spanish. The British gave the new nation its language, laws, and philosophy of government.

 Immigration From 1790 To 1920

  American independence did not immediately stimulate immigragtion. Between 1790 and 1840, more than four million arrived. They came primarily from Ireland, England, Germany, and France. Potato crop failures in Ireland stimulated Irish immigration. Germans came to escape economic and political difficulties. During the last half of the 9th century, many Scandinavians came, attracted by good farmland. The Industrial Revolution and the Westward Movement gave new immigrants a vital role in the nation's economic development. Employers who needed factory workers and landowners who wanted tenants for western lands sent agents to Europe to "sell" America. Agents of steamship lines and railroad companies atracted thousands of immigrants with fabulous stories about the land of opportunity.
  Immigration took another great leap after 1880. Between 1887 and 1920, 23.5 million aliens were admitted. Nearly 90% of these newcomers were from Europe. After 1882, the government kept Asian immigration to a minimum because American workers feared that new Asian immigrants would threaten their jobs and lower their wages.

 Immigration Since 1920
  During World War I, immigration declined due to traveling difficulties. After the war, Europeans once again began crowding aboard ships to the United States. But American industry no longer needed them. During the 1920s, Congress passed the first quota law that limited the number of European immigrants.
  From 1930 to 1945, legal limits and World War II kept immigration to a minimum. When the war ended, immigration rose sharply because entrance was allowed to millions of people left homeless by the war. Special legislation admitted large numbers of displaced persons, refugees, and orphans, as well as war brides. From time to time since then, the United States has lifted immigration restrictions to accomodate, refugees and ease suffering in other parts of the world.
  At present, there is a ceiling on immigration, allowing for 270,000 immigrants to be admitted to the U.S.A. anually, no more than 20,000 from any one country. However, during the 1980s, the number of immigrants annually admitted each year always exceeded 500,000 because certain categories of applicants were excluded from the numerical limitations. These exemptions included the parents, spouses, or minor children of U.S. citizens.
  Immigration restrictions may seem cruel to those who are living in difficult circumstances elsewhere, but they have become necessary because, in the century, the United States' population has grown at a very rapid rate. In 1915, the population reached 100 million. Forty-two years later, it had doubled. A higher birth rate, lower infant mortality, and longer life expectancy had all combined to cause this population explosion. Today, Americans are having smaller families. However, the population is continuing to increase, and about 28% of this growth comes from immigration. Therefore, strict limits on immigration seem likely to continue.
  Who are today's immigrants? They are vastly different from earlier groups. Clearly, the ethic make-up of the United States is changing. From 1981 to 1985, immigration from Europe dropped to 11% of the total legal immigration, while Asia provided about 48% and Latin America about 35% of legal immigrants. In addition, about three-quarters of the illegal immigrants (about 500,000 per year) come from Latin America. If the current trends continue, experts predict that, by the year 2020, about 35% of Americans will be minority group members, primarily black, or Asian.