We Are a Nation of Immigrants!
Political Rhetoric Overlooks U.S. History
There certainly have been a lot of careless remarks about immigrants over the past few months by political candidates and their surrogates. The history of immigration is actually quite substantial and it covers immigrants from many different nations.
It all started with immigration from the United Kingdom, followed by those coming from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Russia, Hungary, Canada, Mexico, Philippines, Cuba, China, India, Vietnam, the Middle East, Central America, South America, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Baltics and many others.
Immigration was estimated at 128,000 from 1820 to 1829, growing to nearly 3.7 million by 1900, 8.2 million by 1910, 6.3 million by 1920, and 4.3 million by 1930, only 700,000 and 800,00 during the Great Depression years, back up to 2.5 million by 1960, 3.2 million by 1970, 4.2 million by 1980, 6.2 million by 1990, 9.8 million by 2000, and 10.3 million by 2020.
Altogether, from 1820 to 2013, 79 million people obtained lawful permanent resident status in the United States. This interactive map visualizes all of them based on their prior country of residence. The brightness of a country corresponds to its total migration to the U.S. at the given time. Use the controls at the bottom to stop / resume the animation or to move back and forth in time.
Time Lapsed Immigration Map from 1820 – 2013
Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration (1 dot = 10,000 people)
Over time, the sources of immigration trace a clear path across the world. Through most of the 1800s, immigration came predominantly from Western Europe (Ireland, Germany, the U.K.). Toward the end of the century, countries further east in Europe (Italy, Russia, Hungary) took over as the largest source of migration. Beginning in the early 1900s, most immigrants arrived from the Americas (Canada, Mexico). And the last few decades have seen a rise in migration from Asia. The same trends are clear looking at the history of New York City’s foreign born population.
Here are the largest immigration “waves” charted over time, showing the progression.
While it may seem that immigration over the last few decades has been higher than ever before, the picture looks very different when viewed relative to the size of the U.S. population.
Here is the same chart, with the immigration shown as a percentage of the U.S. population.
What is particularly interesting about immigration to the U.S. is that each wave coming in from a particular country has a story behind it—usually escaping persecution (e.g. Jews escaping Russia after the May Laws were enacted, the Cuban Revolution) or major economic troubles (e.g. the Irish Potato Famine, the collapse of southern Italy after the Italian Unification).
There are plenty of dark spots on United States’ history, but the role it has played as a sanctuary for troubled people across the world is a history to be proud of.
If you would like to read more about what caused each of these groups to come to the U.S., this graphic summarizes some of the major events.