The United States is known as the land of immigrants. It began its history with immigrants, and it continues to thrive as new immigrants continues to inject young energy and new idea into this country. As Oscar Handlin put it precisely, “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were american history.” This paper will be exploring 4 major immigration trends in the US history. Each weave has its unique characteristics that was shaped by the its time.
Especially, the paper will examine the port of entry, number of immigrants, ethnicity of the immigrants, the push and pull factor behind each weave and the opposition against each weave. US immigration history is an important topic to research because it enables us to take a more holistic view of the current immigration issues. It can put us into the perspective of where all of this came from. As many millennials soaked in the top hit news about the “invasive” and “violence” immigrants coming to this country, it is easy to loss perspective and make a quick judgments.
America has become more reserved vigilant toward toward new immigrants. This paper aims to understand where America came from and hopefully by doing so, we can see what America is truly about and how the US immigration law should be true to its foundational idea and not to loss its identity on the way. These topics covered in paper will be relevant to the course Econ 475 in the ways that it discusses the barrier of migration: the change in immigration law and transportations over the years; rural-urban-migration: the great internal migration about African Americans moving north; and the consequences of migration: mainly related to the aging population and the economic growth.
The First Wave The very first group of Americans are the first wave of immigrants brought by the ship Mayflower in November 9th 1620. The passengers on board were mostly Puritan Separatists from England. They were a group of English Protestants who had separate religious belief and practice from the established Church of England at the time.
They were determined to find a land for themselves where they can enjoy freedom of religion and seek new opportunities for their families. England as the time was still ruled by the aristocracy. The royals controlled the power and the wealth, leaving the people in the bottom stay in the bottom. Therefore, for those people, leaving England was a way to rewrite their destiny. There people are now known as the Pilgrims. Mayflower harbored at a port in Massachusetts where the place later named Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock had a significant meaning for many of the new immigrants. They saw Plymouth Rock as the birthplace of America. Besides the Pilgrims, other passengers on board included some servans, farmers and four small children given away by their parents as indentured servants. Many young people from poor family board the ship as indentured servants with the promise that they will work as servant in debt to the people who paid for their trip. Once they arrived in the new land, the indentured servant will home for the owner until they reached.
Then they are given the freedom to get marry and start their own land. Later, it became a popular way for the poor to flee their original country and start a new life in America. As more and more indentured servant completed their contract and started a free and independent life, the farm owners in the south started to replace these labors with slaves brought from the Triangle Trade. The number of African Slaves increased dramatically in the 1700. It had made the African the second largest population in the new land, with the English the first. In the first census of 1790. The top three ethnicity makeup were English 49%, African 19%, and Scot-Irish 8%. The period of the first wave of immigrants is also known as the frontier expansion. So during this time, the new immigrants were generally welcomed. Their primary goal was to popularize the new land. The opposition is little because the immigrants were relatively homogenous: they share the same religion (Protestant), race (white), and cultural background (English).
And secondly, the rapid expansion of land and people meant that there was always a shortage of labor to support such growth, so there is another reason to welcome new immigrants. However, toward this end of the first wave, some group of German, Catholics, Jews and free African-American immigrants faced some resistance. The Second Wave The second wave of immigrants came between 1820 – 1870. The occurrence of the second wave of immigrants intertwined with several historical events: the civil war, the irish potato famine, failure of German Revolution, and the California Gold Rush. All of which played important role in shaping the characteristics of the immigration history during this period. Before 1820, immigration was relatively slow. On average, there were only around 6000 immigrants per year, which accounted or roughly 1.5% of the American population.
However, beginning in 1832, the American immigrant population started to take off. The number increased rapidly to on average 50,000 immigrants. The peak year came in 1854 when the immigrants reached 428,000 per year. Then as America declared war within the states, the migration flattened as well and it started to spike again with the end of the Civil War in the late 1800’s. By the end of 19th century, according to the census, nearly 14% (U.S Census Bureau) of Americans were foreign-born. The Irish was the “single largest ethnic group” in the second wave of immigrants. One of the major push factor for the Irish leave our country was the Potato Famine from 1845-1849. The famine killed “1 million people in 5 years”. More than “1.5 million adults and children left Ireland to seek refugee in America” Today, we can still see large Irish population in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The second largest group of immigrants was German.
After the German democratic revolution failed, many German left their hometown and came to America to seek for economic opportunities. They tend to reside in the midwest and northeast region of America. Another group of immigrant, although less significant in number, that is also worth mentioning is the Chinese. The chinese immigrants came fleeing the political turmoil and poverty. They entry the states through port in San Francisco. Many of people were attracted by the Gold Rush in California from 1848-1855, and were hopeful for fortunes from mining. Others worked on the construction sites of the railroad projects. The sudden surge of immigrants flowing into America gave rise to the first organized anti-immigrants backlash in 1850’s. The reasons for the resistance generally consisted religion, racism, and economic concerns. The predominantly Protestant America resent the Catholics.
The “old Americans” with English root resented basically all the other ethnic groups, and some “native American” were scared that the foreigners were taking over the job opportunities and driving down the wages. The Third Wave Beginning in late 19th century, democracy, freedom, land, and opportunities were some of the biggest attraction for immigrants. They drew people like magnet from countries with poverty, lack of available land, and high unemployment rate. Another factor that encouraged the third wave of immigration was the development of transportation. The sailing ships were replaced with steamship that were much faster and could hold much more weight. It used to take a sailing ship 3 month to cross the atlantic ocean, and now with steamship, people immigrants could reach New York in 2 weeks. What’s more, regularly trips crossing atlantic ocean were scheduled to accommodate increasing numbers passensges. In 1907, as the immigration hit its peak, there were 1.3 million newcomers reaching in the US in a single year, setting a record in the immigration history. Among them 75% of the third wave immigrants arrived at the Port of New York.
To accommodate the unprecedented inflow of immigrants, the state built the first federal immigration center — Ellis Island. When the ship arrived, while the first and the second class passengers got the enter New York city directly, the third class passengers had to proceed to Ellis Island. They were required to show documents and that they were in physically good condition — basically their worthiness to stay. Although 20% of the immigrants were detained for further observation normally due to health condition, eventually 98% immigrants got to enter the country. During the third wave (1890s-1920s), the US population increased from 63 million to 106 million. According the 1970 census, nearly half the population of the US was descended from an immigrant who went through Ellis Island. The immigrants who came to the US during the third wave were mainly composed of southern and eastern Europeans. 80% of them came from countries such as Italy, Russia and Austro-Hungary.
The sheer size and the cultural diversity brought by this wave of immigrants raised fear in many American, which eventually led to the closing door of Ellis Island. After the European economy collapsed after World War I, another surge of of immigrants fled to America. Within one year, the number of immigrants went from 110,000 in 1919 to 800,000 in 1921, all of which fueled the fear and anger of the Americans. In 1921 the Republican congress passed the first series of immigration restrictions — 1921 Immigration Quota Act, which limited numbers of new immigrants to 350,000 per year, and National Origins Quotas, which limited how many immigrants were allowed to enter from each country. The detail of the later quota revealed strong prejudice against southern and eastern European, which were widely considered as racially inferior than the “native American”. Immigration hit historical low. Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe drop drastically by almost 90%. Compared the 15% in 1930, the foreign born America now only account for 4.7% in 1960.
America’s open door policy had now closed for the many more immigrants who wanted to come to the country. While the door was closed for immigrants, another door opened. Between 1900-19700, a lot of the industries in the north started expand due the WWI and WWII. Because of it, many small town were developed into cities. On the other hand, many people from the south were losing jobs since the agricultural mechanization took place. More land were owned by fewer agricultural giants, driving small farmers out of business because they could not complete the price. One side push, and the other side pull, between 1900-1970 around 10 million Southern Americans migrate to North looking for better job opportunities. Over 70% of these migrants were black, walking way from the “intense southern racism”. The arrival of largest black population in the north change the demography drastically. The black neighborhood started to develop in many predominantly white neighborhood, sometimes when the tipping point was reach, the black even dominated the several cities such as Detroit and Newark. The Fourth Wave Finally, we have arrived to the fourth wave.
This is the wave that the U.S. is currently experiencing. Travel cost reduced significantly over the passed few years with the polarization of airplane. This has encouraged many people to leave their homelands, and to seek new opportunities. Today, there is no main port of entry like for the previous waves, instead, the immigrants today can enter from all the international airport in the US. The ethnic makeup of this wave is mainly Asians and Latin Americans. The main push factors for the Asian immigrants were the unstable governments, lack of job opportunities, and ongoing civil wars. The the pull factors include, stable government, well-functioning welfare system, and higher chances of getting higher pay jobs. Migration to richer countries gives the immigrants the benefit of “citizenship rent”– a rent that a person receives if he or she happens be born in a rich country (Branko Milanovic may 2015) and agglomeration effect: people benefiting from being close with other highly educated and productive people. Sadly this also created a problem for the sending country because went the educated and skilled labor decides to leave their country, the country suffer of brain drain.
However, such migration is always benefiting for the recipient country because they get to enjoy the higher productivity in immigrants brought. However, these push and pull factors also attractive many illegal and undocumented immigrants coming to the country in the recent decades. According the The New York Times, as of 2016 there are 10.7 million illegal immigrants in the US, compared to 34 million lawful immigrants. The distinct cultural differences, and the fact the many of these migrants tend to stick together thus making integration harder made many AMerican concerned about their presences. Many new immigration restrictions, and higher standards are applied to ensure the quality and the quantity of the coming immigrants. Nowadays, although migrating to the US is still he golden tickets to a new life, it has became much more difficult to migrate, despite the fact the immigrants overall has benefited the country more than it harms, if at all.
Conclusion The research paper into the history of the US immigration has provided me with a more holistic view. Over the past 400 years, the number of immigrants to the US has been increasing. As migration became easier and more affordable, the restriction and requirement for immigrants increase. The opposition against new immigrants is nothing new: from the first organized opposition against the German, to Catholic, Jews, African American, to the exclusionary policies against the Asian, to the current opposition against Latin American migrants. However, the history has shown its adaptability and the eventual acceptance of the new immigrants every time,. As result, it has created a country with diverse cultures and young labor force.