Immigration is the act of foreigners passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence. Immigration is made for many reasons, including economic, political, family re-unification, natural disaster, poverty or the wish to change one's surroundings voluntarily.
Tens of millions of immigrants over four centuries have made the United States what it is today. They came to make new lives and livelihoods in the New World; their hard work benefited themselves and their new home country.
Immigration, however, played a key role not only in making America’s development possible but also in shaping the basic nature of the society. Its history falls into five distinct time periods, each of which involved varying rates of migration from distinctly different places in the world. Each reflected, and also shaped, much about the basic nature of American society and economy.
Ever since its founding in 1776, and even before then, the United States has attracted immigrants from around the world. For well over two centuries, people have flocked under this nation's protective wings as opportunists, sojourners, missionaries, refugees, and even illegal aliens. With the Statue of Liberty greeting Europeans entering Ellis Island, and The Golden Gate Bridge greeting Chinese and other Asians into San Francisco, the U.S. has long since been a refuge of the world, with opportunities abound and freedom for all. Over time, millions around the world have found emigrating to the U.S. as the only alternative to starvation, death, or a life full of hardship and suffering. With thousands from nations spanning the globe, America has become a mosaic of people, culture, and hope.
After the Civil War ended in the United States, states were faced with issues pertaining to immigration and thus, began introducing immigration policies. As a result, in 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court designated the regulation of immigration policies to the federal government and not individual states. The first big wave of immigration to the United States began in the 1880s, and the government reacted by creating the Immigration Service in 1891.
The government introduced the National Origins Quota Act in 1921. The quota limited the number of legal immigrants to 3% of their current ethnic makeup in the United States. This immigration quota system was altered three years later and the percentage was lowered to 2%. In addition, Congress established the U.S. Border Patrol as part of the Immigration Service.
Since 1950 more than 25 million immigrants have been admitted to the United States, about 20 million of whom arrived after 1970.
The most radical shift in postwar immigration policy was the 1965 Amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act. The 1965 legislation abolished quotas so that immigrants from all countries could compete more equally for the available visas. It established a minimum quota of 20,000 for each Eastern Hemisphere country according to categories: 64% of visas to U.S. citizens or residents, 6% to refugees, and 30% to employment based categories.
Laws like the Immigration Reform and Control act of 1986 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit unlawful discrimination on the basis of national origin.
Instead of bringing in millions of South, Central, and Eastern Europeans looking for better opportunities than were available in their homelands, the current immigration wave has drawn most heavily from those with Latin American and Asian origins.
In his State of the Union Address, the President laid out his vision for winning the future. To secure prosperity for all Americans, we must out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world, and fixing our immigration system plays an important part in that plan. As we work to rebuild our economy, our ability to thrive depends, in part on restoring responsibility and accountability to the immigration system.