United States immigration has always been interesting to many historians. It can be recalled that the first indigenous people crossed the ice bridge connecting Asia to North America some 12,000 years ago yet it wasn’t until the end of the 15th century that Europeans entered the country’s borders. The French and Spanish were the first to establish settlements while English and Dutch followed soon after and founded their first permanent colonies.
Many immigrants that came to United States were in search for greater economic opportunity while Pilgrims in the early 1600s arrived in search for religious freedom. It was during the 17th to 19th centuries when thousands of African slaves were delivered to United States in forceful manner. Humiliation and discrimination were reported to increase after the imports of the blacks. The first significant federal legislation restricting immigration was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Ellis Island opened up and became the country’s first federal immigration station. Individual states regulated immigration then after. In 1965, new laws ended the quota system that favoured European immigrations. And today, most of the country’s immigrants are coming from Asia and Latin America.
Since the foundation of United States, immigration laws have been reformed. The change was based on the needs of the time but political agendas were assumed to influence the amendments.
Why Early People Migrate to United States?
a. Indentured Servants
Young people were paid for their passage to United States by working for a household for a certain number of years. This labour system was widely practiced in the 18th century in the British colonies in North America and elsewhere. It was expensive for Europeans to cross over to the American Colonies and this was one of their easy techniques to obtain passage. When the contract ends, the servant is free to work on his own. The system gained success that it claimed half of the white immigrants in the 17th and 18th century as indentured servants. Although some people voluntarily indentured themselves, others were found kidnapped in European cities and forced to serve in United States. Convicts were also shipped across the Atlantic for the same purpose.
b. Economic Opportunity
United States was the perfect place for cheap land and freedom of enterprise during the colonial period. Farmers, tradesmen, fishermen, shipbuilders and craftsmen are secured with work. There was an independence of resources and the trade among colonies and indigenous peoples have produced massive improvement.
c. Religious Freedom
Early people migrate to United States to preserve their religious identity. Some were quick enough to migrate to prevent persecution in Europe. Immigrants wanting to preserve the purity of their spiritual views were free to live their lives the way they wanted. Today, United States is packed with numerous religious institutions which is a testament of the freedom that was enjoyed so many decades ago.
Who were the major immigrants in United States?
Apart from British and Asians, another large group of immigrants who arrived in the country were the black slaves from West Africa. They were among the early slaves in America who were forced to indentured servitude. From 20 African servants in 1619, the number increased to 7,000 by 1680 and tremendously escalated to 700,000 by 1790. It was during 1808 when the American congress outlawed the importation of salves to the United States. However, no law has ever stopped their imports. Although there were no exact estimates made, it is believed that 500,000 to 650,000 Africans were shipped to America for slavery between the 17th and 19th centuries, a big population to consider.
People from Northern and Western Europe began to flock to United States around 1815 to 1865. About 1/3 of the population was from Ireland which suffered a great famine in the mid-19th century. At around 1820 and 1930, the number of Irish immigrants was estimated to reach 4.5 million. Joined the Irish immigrants were the Germans. Their population was estimated to reach 5 million in the 19th century. Many of them were found buying large portion of farms in many major cities such as Milwaukee and St. Loius.
The influx of newcomers to United States has posed unwanted competition for jobs and discrimination for due to religious beliefs. Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic American Party tried to trim down the wave of people coming in into the region but it was until during the Civil War that United States has experienced depression that resulted to the slowdown of immigration.
United States: Future Immigration Condition
During the last century, US government had left immigration policy to individual states but the ever-increasing influx of people has never stopped. President Benjamin Harrison opened up the Ellis Island in New York to serve as the federal immigration station. Around 12 million immigrants were admitted to United States through the Ellis Island in between 1892 - 1954. During the rapid industrialization and urbanization (1880 – 1920), about 20 million immigrants were admitted however, the peak year for admission of new immigrants was during 1907 where 1.3 million people entered the country legally.
Today, the majority of United States immigrants are from Asia and Latin America rather than Europe.
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