By: Patricia Ann Talley, MBA and Editor
The United States has more foreign immigrants than any other country in the world. But, many Americans and others around the world do not know the true history of immigration in the USA. Most do not know that the United States of American was established as a nation only for white people.
The first immigration laws of the country granted citizenship only to whites, and until 1965, the US government controlled the race, skin color and national origin of its immigrants and citizens to maintain a white majority population. This changed in the 1960s following the African-American Civil Rights movement that opened the door to diversity in immigration laws. Now, regardless of immigration policies, the demographics of America have changed.
1790: The USA is established as a “White Nation”
Upon its independence from England, the leaders of the new nation wanted to create a distinct American nationality. In 1790, the government passed the first immigration act granting citizenship to “free white,” persons living in the country for two years. 1 This excluded Native Americans, white indentured servants, most white women, free and enslaved African Americans and all other non-white persons born in America.
1790-1965: U.S. Maintains a White Majority Population
Throughout the years, from 1790 until 1965, the U.S. government restricted the immigration of other races and nationalities to maintain a majority white population.1
In 1886, after the Civil War, African-Americans and others born or naturalized in the USA were granted citizenship (14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Native Americans did not receive US citizenship until 1924. In response to “too many Chinese” coming to America to build the railroads, Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Indians, and others) were restricted from immigrating and becoming citizens from 1882 until 1952. Quota systems were also implemented to restrict immigration from certain countries. This changed in the 1960s when the Civil Rights Laws were passed.2
1960’s Civil Rights Laws Open Doors to Other Races and Nationalities
During the 1960s, the African-American Civil Rights Movement impacted the immigration policies of the USA since these laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
In 1965, the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act abolished the national origin quota system that had maintained a white majority, and replaced it with a preference system that focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with citizens or residents of the U.S. This changed the face and color of America as the “non-white” population began to expand with more immigrants arriving from Asia, Mexico and Latin America.2
The US Immigrant Population Today
Today, the foreign-born population residing in the U.S has reached a record level of 43.2 million or 13.4% of the country’s total population. The foreign-born population in the U.S. has more than quadrupled since the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act took effect. (All graphs and statistics are from the Pew Research Center.)
The number of foreign-born Americans has reached a historic record of 43.2 million people.
But, since the Civil Rights legislation in 1965, the racial and ethnic composition of the U.S. immigrant population has changed significantly. In 1960, over 80% of the immigrant population in the U.S. came from Europe and Canada, but today, the majority of immigrants come from Asia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries.
After the Civil Rights legislation in 1965, Asians, Mexicans and other Latin Americans have been allowed to immigrate and become citizens of the United States.
Asians, who whose immigration was restricted until 1955, now outnumber Hispanic immigrants.
Many of the foreign-born population have lived in the U.S. for over 10 years. The immigrant population in the U.S. tends to be younger than the general population and is often more highly educated.
Legal versus Illegal/Unauthorized Immigration
Of the 43.8 million immigrants in the U.S., about 75% are naturalized citizens or have lawful temporary or permanent residence status. About 11 million immigrants or almost 25% are undocumented and without legal status.
According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, most unauthorized immigrants overstay their temporary work or study visas. Many would have to return to their home country to renew or apply for documents. Other barriers include inadequate English skills, lack of time or initiative, and the cost of the U.S. visa or citizenship application. These appear to be significant barriers, as nearly all immigrants from Mexico said they would like to become U.S. citizens someday.3
Some U.S. politicians are calling for stricter immigration policies and laws. But, regardless of immigration actions, the demographics of the United States has changed.
As of 2014, for the first time, “minorities” (Black, Latino, and Asian) outnumber whites among the nation’s public school students. While whites will still outnumber any single racial or ethnic group, their overall share of the nation’s 50 million public school students dropped to 49.7%.
This is due largely to fast growth in the number of Hispanic and Asian school-age children born in the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.4
Now, America is truly a land of immigrants.
- Indiana University Library: http://www.indiana.edu/~kdhist/H105-documents-web/week08/naturalization1790.html
Densho Organization Encyclopedia, Naturalization Act of 1790: http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Naturalization_Act_of_1790/
- PBS Election Special: “Race in 2012” http://race2012pbs.org/the-film/description/
- Gustavo López and Jynnah Radford. Facts on U.S. Immigrants, 2015: Statistical portrait of the foreign-born population in the United States. May 3, 2017. The PEW Hispanic Research Center http://www.pewresearch.org/
- Jens Manuel Krogstad and Richard Fry. Of Ed. Projects Public Schools Will Be ‘Majority-Minority’ This Fall. August 18, 2014. Http://Www.Pewresearch.Org/Fact-Tank/2014/08/18/U-S-Public-Schools-Expected-To-Be-Majority-Minority-Starting-This-Fall/
- Gustavo López and Kristen Bialik. Key findings of U.S. immigrants. May 3, 2017. The PEW Hispanic Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/03/key-findings-about-u-s-immigrants/
- Jeffrey S. Passel Aad D’vera Cohn. As Mexican Share Declined, U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Population Fell In 2015 Below Recession Level. April 25, 2017. The PEW Hispanic Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/25/as-mexican-share-declined-u-s-unauthorized-immigrant-population-fell-in-2015-below-recession-level/