Immigration to the United States
The United States was founded by immigrants and has grown due to immigration from around the world. Large numbers of immigrants entered the United States during three periods in American history. Many new settlers arrived in the colonies in the early days. Another heavy period was in the early 1800's. The third period was between 1880-1920.
In the early colonial days, some people came to find economic opportunity. Some wanted freedom of religion. However, about one-half of European immigrants came as indentured servants because the cost of travel was so high. They could work off the cost of their trip after they arrived in the United States. Another group of immigrants brought to the United States by force were African Americans. It is thought that between the 17th and 19th centuries 500,000-750,000 slaves were brought to America.
From 1816-1865, many Irish people immigrated to America due to great poverty caused by the potato famine in Ireland. They usually settled near the coast where they landed. Also, many German farmers, about 5 million people, arrived in America and settled in the Midwest and started farms. Many Asians came to the west coast of the United States, perhaps after hearing about the gold rush. The number is said to be 25,000.
For most of the 1800's, the federal government left the matter of immigration up to the states. However, in 1890, President Benjamin Harrison set up an immigration station on Ellis Island in New York harbor near the Statue of Liberty. From 1890-1954, 12 million immigrants came through this station.
The immigrants would be taken off the ships on which they traveled and went by barge to Ellis Island. They wore tags from the ship which told where they came from. On Ellis Island, they would go through long lines and undergo medical inspection to see if they were healthy enough to stay in the United States. Many, of course, spoke no English and had a difficult time.
During the 1890's most of the immigrants came from central, southern, and eastern Europe. By 1920, more than 4 million Italians had come to America. From 1890-1920 over 2 million Jews immigrated to America to avoid religious persecution.
In 1924, Congress passed the Immigration Act. It set quotas for how many people could enter the United States from any given country. The limit would be 2% of the number of people from that country already living in America. The number was based on the 1890 census of the population. Unfortunately, this act favored Europeans and discriminated against Asians.
Immigration slowed greatly during periods of poor economic times in the United States. During the depression of the 1870's, many fewer people came to the United States. World War I caused a falling off of the numbers also. The depression of the 1930's and World War II continued this falling off.
After World War II, refugees from Europe and the Soviet Union could enter the United States, as well as after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed. It did away with quotas. Americans could sponsor people from their home countries. Its purpose was to reunite families. Other laws followed. In recent years, most of the immigrants to America do not come from Europe. Many come from Latin America.
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