Immigration and migration in America
Immigration into the United States
Since the first new settlers arrived in America several centuries ago, people have been coming to the United States for a variety of reasons: to find land to farm, to get an education or better job, to earn money to send home, to practice their religion freely, or to escape famine or war, just to name a few. Others came by force. Whatever the cause or reasons, this immigration is what made America the melting pot that it is today.
It wasn't until the later part of the 1820's that the number of immigrants per year was over 10,000, and from that time on, the numbers kept growing. The first real bursts in immigration came in the 1840's and 1850's, when poor harvests forced people to leave Great Britain and Northern Europe. Most of them came to the United States in order to survive -- there simply wasn't enough food to support the population. So, between 1845 and 1860, more than 3.5 million people arrived in the United States in search of a better life.
In the early years, the influx of immigrants was tolerated, if not altogether welcomed. Immigrants helped populate the growing country, and a majority of them were English-speaking Protestants, so they blended in well with the rest of the population. However, as more and more Irish and European Catholics entered the United States, previous immigrant Americans began to protest. They feared both cheap labor and the possibility that a large Catholic population would increase the influence of the Pope in the United States. This fear spawned the "Know-Nothing" movement, a group of individuals who wanted stricter controls on immigration and naturalization.
By 1870, roughly one-eighth of the population was foreign-born, and the opposition to free immigration continued. In answer to the protests, the U.S. government passed laws to regulate immigration. For example, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act disallowed entry of all working-class Chinese. Later laws also barred people who had no money, individuals with certain diseases, anarchists, and individuals who were deemed insane.
The United States government set up quota systems with the National Origins Acts in the 1920's. These quotas heavily favored British and Northern European immigrants over those from Southern and Eastern Europe. At the time, Americans were more accepting of the British and Northern Europeans, while the cultures and cheap labor offered by Slavs, Greeks, Italians, and other Southern and Eastern Europeans seemed more threatening.
The quotas remained in effect until 1965, when the government adjusted them to allow for even more immigration from all countries into the United States. Now, even those quotas are slightly more relaxed. In the post-World War II era, the U.S. government has made exceptions to the quota rules when political situations in other countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Cuba have made it necessary.
Where Does Your Family Fit in the Immigration Timeline?
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Migration Patterns in the United States
Later, as the importance of agriculture died out, people moved where they could find jobs in the booming industries. Whether it was oil in Texas, cars in Detroit, or movies in California, when an industry died out, families moved to the next booming area.
One notable wave of migration began in the 1920's. As the National Origins Acts effectively reduced the number of foreign immigrants, more labor was needed in Northern factories. Thus, many African-Americans from the South took advantage of these job opportunities and began a new life in the North.
Since the 1960's the main migrations have been towards the West and the South. People have continued moving west for the climate and quality of life. The southerly movement was spawned by retirees who also prefer the more temperate climates, as well as the lower cost of living.
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