American immigration (emigration to the United States of America) refers to the movement of non-residents to the United States. Immigration has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of American history. The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding ethnicity, religion, economic benefits, job growth, settlement patterns, impact on upward social mobility, levels of criminality, nationalities, political loyalties, moral values, and work habits. As of 2006, the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than any other country in the world. In 2006, the number of immigrants totaled 37.5 million.
While an influx of new residents from different cultures presents some challenges, "the United States has always been energized by its immigrant populations..." At the 1998 commencement address at Portland State University, U.S. president Bill Clinton voiced support for immigrants, including immigrants from Asia and Latin America when he said that "America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants...They have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people.
Given the distance of North America from Eurasia, most historical U.S. immigration was risky. International jet travel has facilitated travel to the United States since the 1960s, but migration remains difficult, expensive and dangerous for those who cross the United States–Mexico border illegally.
Recent immigration-related proposals have suggested enforcing existing laws with regard to illegal immigrants, building a barrier along some or all of the U.S.-Mexico border, and creating a new guest worker program. Through much of 2006, the country and Congress was immersed in a debate about these proposals. As of March 2007, few of these proposals had become law, though a partial border fence was approved. Many cities, including Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Jersey City, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine, have adopted “sanctuary” ordinances banning police from asking people about their immigration status.
American immigration history can be viewed in four epochs: the colonial period, the mid-nineteenth century, the turn of the twentieth, and post-1965. Each epoch brought distinct national groups - and races and ethnicities - to the United States. The mid-nineteenth century saw mainly an influx from northern Europe; the early twentieth-century mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe; post-1965 mostly from Latin America and Asia.
Until the 1930s, the gender imbalance among legal immigrants was quite sharp, with most legal immigrants being male. As of the 1990s, however, women accounted for just over half of all legal immigrants, indicating a shift away from the male dominated immigration of the past.
Contemporary immigrants tend to be younger than the native population of the United States, with people between the ages 15 and 34 substantially overrepresented. Immigrants are also more likely to be married and less likely to be divorced than native-born Americans of the same age.
Immigrants are likely to move to and live in areas populated by people with similar backgrounds. This phenomenon has held true throughout the history of immigration to the United States.
Three-quarters of immigrants surveyed by Public Agenda said they intend to make the U.S. their permanent home. If they had to do it over again, 80 percent of immigrants say they would still come to the U.S. 50 percent of immigrants say the government has become tougher on enforcing immigration laws since 9/11, and 30% report that they personally have experienced discrimination.
Public attitudes about immigration in the U.S. have been heavily influenced by the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The number of Americans who told the Gallup poll they wanted immigration restricted increased 20 percentage points after the attacks. Half of Americans say tighter controls on immigration would do "a great deal" to enhance U.S. national security, according to a Public Agenda survey.
Public opinion surveys suggest that Americans see both the good and bad sides of immigration. A June 2006 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found the public evenly divided on the fundamental question of whether immigration helps or hurts the country, with 44 percent saying it helps and 45 percent saying it hurts the U.S. Surveys show that the U.S. public has a far more positive outlook about legal immigration than illegal immigration. The public is less willing to provide government services or legal protections to illegal immigrants. When survey data is examined by race, African Americans are both more willing to extend government services to illegal immigrants and more worried about competition for jobs, according to the Pew Research Center.
"The racial and ethnic identity of the United States is - once again - being remade. The 2000 Census counts some 28 million first generation immigrants among us. This is the highest number in history - often pointed out by anti-immigration lobbyists - but it is not the highest percentage of the foreign-born in relation to the overall population. In 1907, that ratio was 14 percent; today it is 10 percent."
Legal immigration to the U.S. increased from 250,000 in the 1930s, 2.5 million in the 1950s, 4.5 million in the 1970s, and 7.3 million in the 1980s to about 10 million in the 1990s. Since 2000, legal immigrants to the United States number approximately 1,000,000 per year, of whom about 600,000 are Change of Status immigrants who already are in the U.S. Legal immigrants to the United States now are at their highest level ever at over 37,000,000 legal immigrants. Illegal immigration may be as high as 1,500,000 per year with a net of at least 700,000 illegal immigrants arriving each year to join the 12,000,000 to 20,000,000 that are already there. (Pew Hispanic Data Estimates ) Immigration led to a 57.4% increase in foreign born population from 1990 to 2000.
While immigration has increased drastically over the last century, the foreign born share of the population was still higher in 1900 (about 20%) than it is today (about 10%). A number of factors may be attributed to the decrease in the representation of foreign born residents in the United States. Most significant has been the change in the composition of immigrants. Prior to 1890, 82% of immigrants came from north and western Europe. From 1891 to 1920, that number dropped to 25%, with a rise in immigrants from East, Central, and South Europe summing up to 64%. Animosity towards these different and foreign immigrants rose in the United States, resulting in much legislation to limit immigration.
Contemporary immigrants settle predominantly in seven states: California, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. These are all high foreign-born population states, together comprising about 44% of the U.S. population as a whole. The combined total immigrant population of these seven states is much higher than what would be proportional, with 70% of the total foreign-born population as of 2000. Of those who immigrated between 2000 and 2005, 58% were from Latin America.
Bureau figures show that the U.S. population grew by 2.8 million between July 1, 2004, and July 1, 2005. Hispanics accounted for 1.3 million of that increase. If current birth rate and immigration rates were to remain unchanged for another 70 to 80 years, the U.S. population would double to nearly 600 million. The Census Bureau's estimates actually go as high as predicting that there will be one billion Americans in 2100, compared with one million people in 1700 and 5.2 million in 1800. Census statistics also show that 45% of children under age 5 are from a racial or ethnic minority.
In 2006, a total of 1,266,264 immigrants became legal permanent residents of the United States, up from 601,516 in 1987, 849,807 in 2000, and 1,122,373 in 2005. The top twelve migrant-sending countries in 2006, by country of birth, were Mexico (173,753), People's Republic of China (87,345), Philippines (74,607), India (61,369), Cuba (45,614), Colombia (43,151), Dominican Republic (38,069), El Salvador (31,783), Vietnam (30,695), Jamaica (24,976), South Korea (24,386), Guatemala (24,146), Other countries - 606,370. In fiscal year 2006, 202 refugees from Iraq were allowed to resettle in the United States. Muslim immigration to the U.S. is rising and in 2005 alone more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent U.S. residents — nearly 96,000 — than in any year in the previous two decades.
In 1900, when the U.S. population was 76 million, there were an estimated 500,000 Hispanics. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050, one-quarter of the population will be of Hispanic descent. This demographic shift is largely fueled by immigration from Latin America.
Projected immigration 2000, 2004 and 2010:
|Top Ten Foreign Countries - Foreign Born Population Among U.S. Immigrants|
|Total Pop. Top 10||498,900||16,112,000||18,747,600||21,741,000||53.7%|
|Total Foreign Born||940,000||31,100,000||34,860,000||40,500,000||100%|
|Historical Data from 2000 U.S. Census and 2004 Yearbook of Immigrant Statistics|
|Percentage change in Foreign Born Population 1990 to 2000|
|North Carolina||273.7%||South Carolina||132.1%||Mississippi||95.8%||Wisconsin||59.4%||Vermont||32.5%|
|Nebraska||164.7%||Alabama||101.6%||South Dakota||74.6%||California||37.2%||Rhode Island||25.4%|
|Colorado||159.7%||Delaware||101.6%||Maryland||65.3%||New York||35.6%||West Virginia||23.4%|
|Source: U.S. Census 1990 and 2000|
Average change in U.S. from 1990 to 2000 was a 57.4% increase in foreign population.
A new report from the Pew Research Center projects that by 2050, non-Hispanic whites will account for 47% of the population, down from the 2005 figure of 67%. Non-Hispanic whites made up 85% of the population in 1960. It foresees the Hispanic population rising from 14% in 2005 to 29% by 2050. The Asian population is expected to more than triple by 2050. Overall, the population of the United States is due to rise from 296 million in 2005 to 438 million, with 82% of the increase coming from immigrants.
In 35 of the country's 50 largest cities, non-Hispanic whites were at the last census or are predicted to be in the minority. In California, non-Hispanic whites slipped from 80% of the state's population in 1970 to 43% in 2006.
At the June 13, 1998, Commencement Address at Portland State University, president Bill Clinton said, "new immigrants are good for America. They are revitalizing our cities...building our new economy...strengthening our ties to the global economy, just as earlier waves of immigrants settled on the new frontier and powered the Industrial Revolution. They are energizing our culture and broadening our vision of the world. They are renewing our most basic values and reminding us all of what it truly means to be an American."
Opinions vary about the economic effects of immigration. Those who find that immigrants produce a negative effect on the U.S. economy often focus on the difference between taxes paid and government services received and wage-lowering effects among low-skilled native workers, while those who find positive economics effects focus on added productivity and lower costs to consumers for certain goods and services. In a late 1980s study, economists themselves overwhelmingly viewed immigration, including illegal immigration, as a positive for the economy. According to James Smith, a senior economist at Santa Monica-based RAND Corporation and lead author of the United States National Research Council's study "The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration", immigrants contribute as much as $10 billion to the U.S. economy each year. The NRC report found that although immigrants, especially those from Latin America, were a net cost in terms of taxes paid versus social services received, overall immigration was a net economic gain due to an increase in pay for higher-skilled workers, lower prices for goods and services produced by immigrant labor, and more efficiency and lower wages for some owners of capital. The report also notes that although immigrant workers compete with domestic workers for some low skilled jobs, some immigrants specialize in activities that otherwise would not exist in an area, and thus are performing services that otherwise would not exist, and thus can be beneficial to all domestic residents About 21 million immigrants, or about 15 percent of the labor force, hold jobs in the United States. However, the number of unemployed is only seven million, meaning that immigrant workers are not taking jobs from domestic workers. Rather, they are doing jobs that would not have existed had the immigrant workers not been in the United States. U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners: Hispanic-Owned Firms: 2002 indicated that the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States grew to nearly 1.6 million in 2002. Those Hispanic-owned businesses generated about $222 billion in revenue. The report notes that the burden of poor immigrants is not born equally among states, and is most heavy in California. Another claim that those supporting current and expanded immigration levels is that immigrants mostly do jobs Americans don't want. A 2006 Pew Hispanic Center report added evidence to support that claim when they found that increasing immigration levels have not hurt employment prospects for American workers.
Jason Riley notes that because of progressive income taxation, in which the top 1% of earners pay 37% of federal income taxes, 60% of Americans collect more in government services than they pay in. Thus, it is not remarkable that some immigrants would do the same. In any event, the typical immigrant and his children will pay a net $80,000 more in their lifetimes than they collect in government services, according to the NAS.
The Kauffman Foundation’s index of entrepreneurial activity is nearly 40% higher for immigrants than for natives. Immigrants were involved in the founding of many prominent American high-tech companies, such as Google, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, and eBay.
On the poor end of the spectrum, the "New Americans" report found that low-skill low wage immigration does not, on aggregate, lower the wages of most domestic workers. The report also addresses the question of if immigration affects black Americans differently from the population in general: "While some have suspected that blacks suffer disproportionately from the inflow of low-skilled immigrants, none of the available evidence suggests that they have been particularly hard-hit on a national level. Some have lost their jobs, especially in places where immigrants are concentrated. But the majority of blacks live elsewhere, and their economic fortunes are tied to other factors.
Robert Samuelson points out that poor immigrants strain public services such as local schools and health care. He points out that "from 2000 to 2006, 41 percent of the increase in people without health insurance occurred among Hispanics. According to the immigration reduction advocacy group Center for Immigration Studies, 25.8% of Mexican immigrants live in poverty — more than double the rate for natives in 1999. In another report, The Heritage Foundation notes that from 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million, from 6 million to 9.2 million.
Benjamin Franklin opposed German immigration, stating that they would not assimilate into the culture. Irish immigration was opposed in the 1850s by the Nativist/Know Nothing movement, originating in New York in 1843. It was engendered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Irish Catholic immigrants. In 1891, a lynch mob stormed a local jail and hanged several Italians following the acquittal of several Sicilian immigrants alleged to be involved in the murder of New Orleans police chief David Hennessey. The Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s. Systematic bias against Japanese and German immigrants emerged during and after World War II. Irish and Jewish immigrants were popular targets early in the 20th century and most recently immigrants from Latin American countries are often viewed with hostility. Some Americans have not completely adjusted to the largely non-European immigration and racism does occur. After September 11, many Middle Eastern immigrants and those perceived to be of Middle Eastern origins were targets of hate crimes.
Minority racism, on the other hand, is sometimes considered controversial because of theories of power in society. Racist thinking among and between minority groups does occur, examples of this are conflicts between blacks and Korean immigrants (notably in the 1992 Los Angeles Riots) or between African Americans and the mostly non-white Latino immigrants. There has been a long running racial tension between African American and Mexican prison gangs and significant riots in California prisons where Mexican inmates and African Americans have targeted each other particularly, based on racial reasons. There have been reports of racially motivated attacks against African Americans who have moved into neighborhoods occupied mostly by people of Mexican descent, and vice versa. There has also been an increase in violence between European Americans and Latino immigrants, and between African immigrants and African Americans. There are also tensions between native-born Hispanic Americans and newly-arrived Latino immigrants.
Another topic that is widely discussed relates to the issue of the health of immigrants and the associated cost to the public of their use of public health services. Immigrants, legal and illegal, use the public health care system, particularly emergency room services. The non-emergency use of emergency rooms ostensibly indicates an incapacity to pay, yet some studies allege disproportionately lower access to — and usage of — unpaid health care by immigrants. For this and other reasons, there have been various disputes about how much immigration is costing the United States public health system. University of Maryland economist and Cato Institute scholar, Julian Lincoln Simon, concluded in 1995 that although overall, immigrants probably pay more into the health system than they take out, this is not likely the case for elderly immigrants and many refugees, who are more dependent on public services for survival.
Immigration from areas of high incidence of disease is thought to have fueled the resurgence of tuberculosis (TB), chagas, and hepatitis in areas of low incidence. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TB cases among foreign-born individuals remain disproportionately high, at nearly nine times the rate of U.S.-born persons. To reduce the risk of diseases in low-incidence areas, the main countermeasure has been the screening of immigrants on arrival.
Researchers have found what is called the "healthy immigrant effect," in which immigrants in general tend to be healthier (mental health, healthy nutrition) than individuals born in the U.S.
Various researchers have criticized the position held by Simon and others that increased U.S. population growth is sustainable. David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and Mario Giampietro, senior researcher at the National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition (INRAN), place in their study Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy the maximum U.S. population for a sustainable economy at 200 million. To achieve a sustainable economy the United States must reduce its population by at least one-third. Current U.S. population of more than 300 million and U.S. population growth of approximately three million people each year, partly fueled by immigration, are unsustainable, says study.
Perceived heavy immigration, especially in the southwest, has led to some fears about population pressures on the water supply in some areas. California continues to grow by more than a half million a year and is expected to reach 48 million in 2030. According to the California Department of Water Resources, if more supplies are not found by 2020, residents will face a water shortfall nearly as great as the amount consumed today. Los Angeles is a coastal desert able to support at most one million people on its own water. California is considering using desalination to solve this problem.
Empirical studies on links between immigration and crime are mixed. Certain studies have suggested that immigrants are underrepresented in criminal statistics. An Op-Ed in The New York Times by Harvard University Professor in Sociology Robert J. Sampson says that immigration of Hispanics may in fact be associated with decreased crime.A 1999 paper by John Hagan and Alberto Palloni estimated that the involvement in crime by Hispanic immigrants are less than that of other citizens.
Immigrants, both legal and illegal do not raise the rate of crime in the United States and native born Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated than immigrants. In a study released by the non-partisan research group The Public Policy Institute of California immigrants (legal and illegal) were ten times less likely to be incarcerated than native born Americans.
In his 1999 book Crime and Immigrant Youth, sociologist Tony Waters writes that immigrants themselves are less likely to be arrested and incarcerated. He also noted, however, that the children of some immigrant groups are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated. This is a by-product of the strains that emerge between immigrant parents living in poor inner city neighborhoods, and their sons. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, for example, as of 2001, 4% of Hispanic males in their twenties and thirties were in prison or jail, compared with 1.8% of white males. Hispanic men are almost four times as likely to go to prison at some point in their lives as white males, although less likely than African American males.
There were an estimated 30,000 street gangs and more than 800,000 gang members active across the U.S. in 2007, up from 731,500 in 2002. New immigrants are susceptible to gang influences and activities because of language barriers, employment difficulties, support, protection, and fear.
Some commentators have suggested that increased immigration has a negative effect on the environment, especially as the level of economic development of the United States (and by extension, its energy, water and other needs that underpin its prosperity) means that the impact of a larger population is greater than what would be experienced in other countries. There is, however, no empirical evidence linking immigration to the degradation of the environment.
Americans constitute approximately 5% of the world's population, but produce roughly 25% of the world’s CO2, consume about 25% of world’s resources, including approximately 26% of the world's energy, although having only around 3% of the world’s known oil reserves, and generate approximately 30% of world’s waste. The average American's impact on the environment is approximately 250 times greater than the average Sub-Saharan African's.
With current consumption patterns, population growth in the United States is therefore more of a threat to the Earth's environment than population growth in any other part of the world. (currently, at least 1.8 million legal and illegal immigrants settle in the United States each year; with the average Hispanic woman giving birth to 3 children in her lifetime. Though, "on the other hand, a substantial portion of immigrants (about 30 percent) return to their country of origin, presumably taking at least their younger children with them, thus substantially mitigating the effect of their higher fertility.).
Paul Ehrlich made the point that a state or nation may have a large land area or considerable wealth (which implies, by conventional wisdom, that overpopulation should not be at play), and yet be overpopulated. The U.S. state of Arizona, for example, has enormous land area, but has neither the carrying capacity of arable land or potable water to support its growing population. While it imports food, using its wealth to offset this shortfall, that only serves to illustrate that it has insufficient carrying capacity. The only way that Arizona (and Southern California) obtains sufficient water is by extraction of water from the Colorado River beyond its fair share (and beyond its own carrying capacity of innate water resources), based on international standards of fair use per lineal mile of river.
Immigrant children have historically been greatly affected by cultural misunderstanding, language barriers, and feelings of isolation within the school atmosphere. More recently, however, immigrant children are finding a more welcoming school atmosphere. This does not undermine the difficulties immigrants face upon entering U.S. schools. Immigrant children maintain their native tongue which can leave them feeling disadvantaged within English speaking schools.
In 2006 the anti-immigration think tank the Center for Immigration Studies released a poll that found 68% of Americans said US immigration levels are too high, and just 2% said they are too low. They also found that 70% said they are less likely to vote for candidates that favor increasing legal immigration.
In 2004, 55% of Americans believe legal immigration should remain at the current level or increased and 41% say it should be decreased.
In a 2002 study that occurred soon after 9/11 where 55% of Americans favored decreasing legal immigration, 27% favored keeping it at the same level, and 15% favored increasing it.
In 1996, 70% of Americans want immigration reduced to 300,000 annually and 20% want to halt all immigration.
One of the most important factors regarding public opinion about immigration is the level of unemployment; anti-immigrant sentiment is highest where unemployment is highest and vice-versa.
The 1990 Immigration Act (IMMACT) limits the annual number of immigrants to 700,000. It emphasizes that family reunification is the main immigration criteria, in addition to employment-related immigration.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) exemplifies many categories of criminal activity for which immigrants, including green card holders, can be deported and imposed mandatory detention for certain types of deportation cases.
Since World War II, more refugees have found homes in the U.S. than any other nation and more than 2 million refugees have arrived in the U.S. since 1980. Of the top ten countries accepting resettled refugees in 2006, the United States accepted more than twice as much as the next nine countries combined. For example, Japan accepted just 16 refugees in 1999, while the United States took in 85,010 for resettlement, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The U.S. will accept 70,000 refugees in fiscal year 2007, and President Bush stated that his eventual goal is a program that resettles 90,000 refugees in the United States each year. In 2006, the State Department officially re-opened the Vietnamese resettlement program. In recent years, the main refugee sending-region has been Africa (Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Ethiopia). A July 22, 2007 article notes that in the past nine months only 133 of the planned 7000 Iraqi refugees were allowed into the United States. The ceiling for refugee resettlement for fiscal year 2008 is 80,000 refugees. The United States expects to admit a minimum of 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal year 2009.
In 1991-92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 ethnic Nepalis, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since. At present, the United States is working towards resettling more than 60,000 of these refugees in the US as third country settlement programme.
Members of Congress may submit private bills granting residency to specific named individuals. A special committee vets the requests, which require extensive documentation. Congress has bestowed the title of "Honorary Citizen of the United States" to six people. The only two living recipients were Winston Churchill and Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa), the other instances were posthumous honors.
The Central Intelligence Agency has the statutory authority to admit up to one hundred people a year outside of normal immigration procedures, and to provide for their settlement and support. The program is called "PL110" after the legislation that created the agency, Public Law 110, the Central Intelligence Agency Act.
Illegal immigration has recently resurfaced as a major political issue. Various bills are in the United States Congress either to provide for legalization and amnesty of those present in the country illegally, or to crack down on employers that hire undocumented workers and build a wall along the Mexican border.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 8.7 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States in 2000.
The history of immigration to the United States of America is the history of the United States itself, and the journey from beyond the sea is an element found in the American myth, appearing over and over again in everything from The Godfather to Gangs of New York to "The Song of Myself" to Neil Diamond's "America" to the animated feature An American Tail.
As in many myths, the immigrant story has been exaggerated. Immigrants, including new colonists from before the establishment of the United States as a separate country, were never more than 15% of the population and usually considerably less. Immigrants were often poor and uneducated but the succeeding generations took advantage of the opportunities offered. The reality is even more amazing than the myth in some ways as the succeeding generations learn how to cooperate or at least tolerate each other to build a strong system of shared core beliefs that has succeeded far beyond its original founders would have ever believed possible.
The American Dream is the belief that through hard work and determination, any United States immigrant can achieve a better life, usually in terms of financial prosperity and enhanced personal freedom of choice. This Dream has been a major factor in attracting immigrants to the United States. According to historians, the rapid economic and industrial expansion of the U.S. is not simply a function of being a resource rich, hard working, and inventive country, but the belief that anybody could get a share of the country's wealth if he or she was willing to work hard. Many have also argued that the basis of the American greatness is how the country began without a rigid class structure at a time when other countries in Africa, Europe, China, India and Latin America had much more stratified social structures.