Naturalization ceremony at Oakton High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, December 2015.
Immigrants to the United States take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, September 2010.
Population growth rate with and without migration in the U.S.

Immigration to the United States is the international movement of individuals who are not natives or do not possess citizenship in order to settle, reside, study, or work in the country. Immigration has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of United States history. All Americans, except for Native Americans, can trace their ancestry to immigrants from other nations around the world.

In absolute numbers, the United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country, with 47 million immigrants as of 2015.[1] This represents 19.1% of the 244 million international migrants worldwide, and 14.4% of the United States population. Some other countries have larger proportions of immigrants, such as Australia with 30%[2] and Canada with 21.9%.[3]

According to the 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, the United States admitted a total of 1.18 million legal immigrants (618k new arrivals, 565k status adjustments) in 2016.[4] Of these, 48% were the immediate relatives of United States citizens, 20% were family-sponsored, 13% were refugees or asylum seekers, 12% were employment-based preferences, 4.2% were part of the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, 1.4% were victims of a crime (U1) or their family members were (U2 to U5),[5] and 1.0% who were granted the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for Iraqis and Afghans employed by the United States Government.[4] The remaining 0.4% included small numbers from several other categories, including 0.2% who were granted suspension of deportation as an immediate relative of a citizen (Z13);[6] persons admitted under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act; children born after the issuance of a parent's visa; and certain parolees from the former Soviet Union, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who were denied refugee status.[4]

The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding such issues as maintaining ethnic homogeneity, workers for employers versus jobs for non-immigrants, settlement patterns, impact on upward social mobility, crime, and voting behavior.

Between 1921 and 1965, policies such as the national origins formula limited immigration and naturalization opportunities for people from areas outside Western Europe. Exclusion laws enacted as early as the 1880s generally prohibited or severely restricted immigration from Asia, and quota laws enacted in the 1920s curtailed Eastern European immigration. The civil rights movement led to the replacement[7] of these ethnic quotas with per-country limits for family-sponsored and employment-based preference visas.[8] Since then, the number of first-generation immigrants living in the United States has quadrupled.[9][10] The total immigrant population has stalled in recent years, especially since the election of Donald Trump and the Covid-19 pandemic. Census estimates show 45.3 million foreign born residents in March 2018 and 45.4 million in September 2021; the lowest 3 year increase in decades.[11]

Research suggests that immigration to the United States is beneficial to the United States economy. With few exceptions, the evidence suggests that on average, immigration has positive economic effects on the native population, but it is mixed as to whether low-skilled immigration adversely affects low-skilled natives. Studies also show that immigrants have lower crime rates than natives in the United States.[12][13][14]


Immigrants on ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty, New York City, 1887

American immigration history can be viewed in four epochs: the colonial period, the mid-19th century, the start of the 20th century, and post-1965. Each period brought distinct national groups, races and ethnicities to the United States.

Colonial period

During the 17th century, approximately 400,000 English people migrated to Colonial America.[15] However, only half stayed permanently. They comprised 85–90% of white immigrants. From 1700 to 1775, between 350,000 and 500,000 Europeans immigrated: estimates vary in sources. Only 52,000 English reportedly immigrated in the period 1701 to 1775,[16] a figure questioned as too low.[17] 400,000–450,000 were Scots, Scots-Irish from Ulster, Germans, Swiss, French Huguenots, and 300,000 involuntarily transported Africans.[18] Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America during the 17th and 18th centuries arrived as indentured servants.[19] They numbered 350,000.[20] From 1770 to 1775 (the latter year being when the American Revolutionary War began), 7,000 English, 15,000 Scots, 13,200 Scots-Irish, 5,200 Germans, and 3,900 Irish Catholics arrived.[21] Fully half of the English immigrants were young, single men who were well-skilled, trained artisans, like the Huguenots.[22] The European populations of the Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware were ethnically very mixed, the English constituting only 30% in Pennsylvania, 40–45% in New Jersey, to 18% in New York.[23]

Historians estimate that fewer than one million immigrants moved to the United States from Europe between 1600 and 1799.[24] By comparison, in the first federal census, in 1790, the population of the United States was enumerated to be 3,929,214.[25]

Early United States era

The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited naturalization to "free white persons"; it was expanded to include black people in the 1860s and Asian people in the 1950s.[26] This made the United States an outlier, since laws that made racial distinctions were uncommon in the world in the 18th century.[27]

In the early years of the United States, immigration (not counting the enslaved, who were treated as merchandise rather than people) was fewer than 8,000 people a year,[28] including French refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti. Legal importation of enslaved African was prohibited after 1808, though many were smuggled in to sell. After 1820, immigration gradually increased. From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States.[29] The death rate on these transatlantic voyages was high, during which one in seven travelers died.[30] In 1875, the nation passed its first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875.[31]

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902

After an initial wave of immigration from China following the California Gold Rush, Congress passed a series of laws culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, banning virtually all immigration from China until the law's repeal in 1943. In the late 1800s, immigration from other Asian countries, especially to the West Coast, became more common.

20th century

The peak year of European immigration was in 1907, when 1,285,349 persons entered the country.[32] By 1910, 13.5 million immigrants were living in the United States.[33]

While the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had already excluded immigrants from China, the immigration of people from Asian countries in addition to China was banned by the Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, which also banned homosexuals, people with intellectual disability, and people with an anarchist worldview.[34] The Emergency Quota Act was enacted in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The 1924 Act was aimed at further restricting immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, particularly Jewish, Italian, and Slavic people, who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s, and consolidated the prohibition of Asian immigration.[35]

Several Polish immigrant workers, some of which are children, are seen standing in their fields after picking berries.
Polish immigrants working on the farm, 1909. The welfare system was practically non-existent before the 1930s and the economic pressures on the poor were giving rise to child labor.

Immigration patterns of the 1930s were affected by the Great Depression. In the final prosperous year, 1929, there were 279,678 immigrants recorded,[36] but in 1933, only 23,068 moved to the U.S.[24] In the early 1930s, more people emigrated from the United States than to it.[37] The U.S. government sponsored a Mexican Repatriation program which was intended to encourage people to voluntarily move to Mexico, but thousands were deported against their will.[38] Altogether, approximately 400,000 Mexicans were repatriated; half of them were US citizens.[39] Most of the Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis and World War II were barred from coming to the United States.[40] In the post-war era, the Justice Department launched Operation Wetback, under which 1,075,168 Mexicans were deported in 1954.[41]

Since 1965

Immigrant trunks. Left, from Sweden, late 19th century. Right, from Refugee camp in Thailand, 1993.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, abolished the system of national-origin quotas. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations, which changed the ethnic demographics of the United States.[42] In 1970, 60% of immigrants were from Europe; this decreased to 15% by 2000.[43] In 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990,[44] which increased legal immigration to the United States by 40%.[45] In 1991, Bush signed the Armed Forces Immigration Adjustment Act 1991, allowing foreign service members who had served 12 or more years in the US Armed Forces to qualify for permanent residency and, in some cases, citizenship.

In November 1994, California voters passed Proposition 187 amending the state constitution, denying state financial aid to illegal immigrants. The federal courts voided this change, ruling that it violated the federal constitution.[46]

Appointed by Bill Clinton,[47] the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recommended reducing legal immigration from about 800,000 people per year to approximately 550,000.[48] While an influx of new residents from different cultures presents some challenges, "the United States has always been energized by its immigrant populations", said President Bill Clinton in 1998. "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."[49]

Boston Chinatown, Massachusetts, 2008.

In 2001, President George W. Bush discussed an accord with Mexican President Vincente Fox. Due to the September 11 attacks, the possible accord did not occur. From 2005 to 2013, the US Congress discussed various ways of controlling immigration. The Senate and House were unable to reach an agreement.[46]

Nearly 14 million immigrants entered the United States from 2000 to 2010,[50] and over one million persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008. The per-country limit[8] applies the same maximum on the number of visas to all countries regardless of their population and has therefore had the effect of significantly restricting immigration of persons born in populous nations such as Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines—the leading countries of origin for legally admitted immigrants to the United States in 2013;[51] nevertheless, China, India, and Mexico were the leading countries of origin for immigrants overall to the United States in 2013, regardless of legal status, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study.[52]

Nearly 8 million people immigrated to the United States from 2000 to 2005; 3.7 million of them entered without papers.[53][54] In 1986 president Ronald Reagan signed immigration reform that gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants in the country.[55] Hispanic immigrants suffered job losses during the late-2000s recession,[56] but since the recession's end in June 2009, immigrants posted a net gain of 656,000 jobs.[57] Over 1 million immigrants were granted legal residence in 2011.[58]

For those who enter the US illegally across the Mexico–United States border and elsewhere, migration is difficult, expensive and dangerous.[59] Virtually all undocumented immigrants have no avenues for legal entry to the United States due to the restrictive legal limits on green cards, and lack of immigrant visas for low-skilled workers.[60] Participants in debates on immigration in the early twenty-first century called for increasing enforcement of existing laws governing illegal immigration to the United States, building a barrier along some or all of the 2,000-mile (3,200 km) Mexico-U.S. border, or creating a new guest worker program. Through much of 2006 the country and Congress was engaged in a debate about these proposals. As of April 2010 few of these proposals had become law, though a partial border fence had been approved and subsequently canceled.[61]

Modern reform attempts

Beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, presidents from both political parties have steadily increased the number of border patrol agents and instituted harsher punitive measures for immigration violations. Examples of these policies include Ronald Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Clinton-era Prevention Through Deterrence strategy. The sociologist Douglas Massey has argued that these policies have succeeded at producing a perception of border enforcement but have largely failed at preventing emigration from Latin America. Notably, rather than curtailing illegal immigration, the increase in border patrol agents decreased circular migration across the U.S.–Mexico border, thus increasing the population of Hispanics in the U.S.[62]

Presidents from both parties have employed anti-immigrant rhetoric to appeal to their political base or to garner bi-partisan support for their policies. While Republicans like Reagan and Donald Trump have led the way in framing Hispanic immigrants as criminals, Douglas Massey points out that "the current moment of open racism and xenophobia could not have happened with Democratic acquiescence".[63] For example, while lobbying for his 1986 immigration bill, Reagan framed unauthorized immigration as a "national security" issue and warned that "terrorists and subversives are just two days' driving time" from the border.[63] Later presidents, including Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, used similar "security" rhetoric in their efforts to court Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, Obama said "real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history".[64]

Trump administration policies

ICE reports that it removed 240,255 immigrants in fiscal year 2016, as well as 226,119 in FY2017 and 256,085 in FY2018. Citizens of Central American countries (including Mexico) made up over 90% of removals in FY2017 and over 80% in FY2018.[65]

In January 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending entry to the United States by nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries. It was replaced by another executive order in March 2017 and by a presidential proclamation in September 2017, with various changes to the list of countries and exemptions.[66] The orders were temporarily suspended by federal courts but later allowed to proceed by the Supreme Court, pending a definite ruling on their legality.[67] Another executive order called for the immediate construction of a wall across the U.S.–Mexico border, the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol agents and 10,000 new immigration officers, and federal funding penalties for sanctuary cities.[68]

The "zero-tolerance" policy was put in place in 2018, which legally allows children to be separated from adults unlawfully entering the United States. This is justified by labeling all adults that enter unlawfully as criminals, thus subjecting them to criminal prosecution.[69] The Trump Administration also argued that its policy had precedent under the Obama Administration, which had opened family detention centers in response to migrants increasingly using children as a way to get adults into the country. However, the Obama Administration detained families together in administrative, rather than criminal, detention.[70][71]

Other policies focused on what it means for an asylum seeker to claim credible fear.[72] To further decrease the amount of asylum seekers into the United States, Attorney Jeff Sessions released a decision that restricts those fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse as "private crime", therefore making their claims ineligible for asylum.[73] These new policies that have been put in place are putting many lives at risk, to the point that the ACLU has officially sued Jeff Sessions along with other members of the Trump Administration. The ACLU claims that the policies that are currently being put in place by this Presidential Administration is undermining the fundamental human rights of those immigrating into the United States, specifically women. They also claim that these policies violate decades of settle asylum law.[74]

In April 2020, President Trump said he will sign an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration to the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.[75][76]

Origins of the U.S. immigrant population, 1960–2016

% of foreign-born population residing in the U.S. who were born in ...[77]
1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2018
Europe-Canada 84% 68% 42% 26% 19% 15% 15% 14% 14% 14% 14% 13% 13%
South and East Asia 4% 7% 15% 22% 23% 25% 25% 26% 26% 26% 27% 27% 28%
Other Latin America 4% 11% 16% 21% 22% 24% 24% 24% 24% 24% 24% 25% 25%
Mexico 6% 8% 16% 22% 29% 29% 29% 28% 28% 28% 27% 26% 25%

Note: "Other Latin America" includes Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

Persons obtaining legal permanent resident status by fiscal year[78][79][80][81]
Year Year Year Year Year Year Year Year
1890 455,302 1910 1,041,570 1930 241,700 1950 249,187 1970 373,326 1990 1,535,872 2010 1,042,625 2018 1,096,611
1895 258,536 1915 326,700 1935 34,956 1955 237,790 1975 385,378 1995 720,177 2015 1,051,031 2019 1,031,765
1900 448,572 1920 430,001 1940 70,756 1960 265,398 1980 524,295 2000 841,002 2016 1,183,505 2020 707,362
1905 1,026,499 1925 294,314 1945 38,119 1965 296,697 1985 568,149 2005 1,122,257 2017 1,127,167
Decade Average per year
1890–99 369,100
1900–09 745,100
1910–19 634,400
1920–29 429,600
1930–39 69,900
1940–49 85,700
1950–59 249,900
1960–69 321,400
1970–79 424,800
1980–89 624,400
1990–99 977,500
2000–09 1,029,900
2010–19 1,063,300
Refugee numbers
Operation Allies Refuge: Afghans being evacuated on a US Air Force Boeing C-17 plane during the Fall of Kabul (2021)

According to the Department of State, in the 2016 fiscal year 84,988 refugees were accepted into the US from around the world. In the fiscal year of 2017, 53,691 refugees were accepted to the US. There was a significant decrease after Trump took office; it continued in the fiscal year of 2018 when only 22,405 refugees were accepted into the US. This displays a massive drop in acceptance of refugees since the Trump Administration has been in place.[82][original research?]

On September 26, 2019, The Trump administration announced it plans to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, its lowest level since the modern program began in 1980.[83][84][85][86]

In 2020 The Trump administration announces that it plans to slash refugee admissions to U.S. for 2021 to a record low, 15,000 refugees down from a cap of 18,000 for 2020. This is the fourth consecutive year of declining refugee admissions under the Trump term.[87][88][89]

Period Refugee Programme [90][91][87][88][89]
2018 45,000
2019 30,000
2020 18,000
2021 15,000

Contemporary immigration

Naturalization ceremony, Salem, Massachusetts, 2007

As of 2018, approximately half of immigrants living in the United States are from Mexico and other Latin American countries.[92] Many Central Americans are fleeing because of desperate social and economic circumstances in their countries. Some believe that the large number of Central American refugees arriving in the United States can be explained as a "blowback" to policies such as United States military interventions and covert operations that installed or maintained in power authoritarian leaders allied with wealthy land owners and multinational corporations who stop family farming and democratic efforts, which have caused drastically sharp social inequality, wide-scale poverty and rampant crime.[93] Economic austerity dictated by neoliberal policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund and its ally, the U.S., has also been cited as a driver of the dire social and economic conditions, as has the U.S. "War on Drugs", which has been understood as fueling murderous gang violence in the region.[94] Another major migration driver from Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) are crop failures, which are (partly) caused by climate change.[95][96][97][98] "The current debate … is almost totally about what to do about immigrants when they get here. But the 800-pound gorilla that’s missing from the table is what we have been doing there that brings them here, that drives them here", according to Jeff Faux, an economist who is a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute.

Until the 1930s most legal immigrants were male. By the 1990s women accounted for just over half of all legal immigrants.[99] Contemporary immigrants tend to be younger than the native population of the United States, with people between the ages of 15 and 34 substantially overrepresented.[100] Immigrants are also more likely to be married and less likely to be divorced than native-born Americans of the same age.[101]

Immigrants are likely to move to and live in areas populated by people with similar backgrounds. This phenomenon has remained true throughout the history of immigration to the United States.[102] Seven out of ten immigrants surveyed by Public Agenda in 2009 said they intended to make the U.S. their permanent home, and 71% said if they could do it over again they would still come to the US. In the same study, 76% of immigrants say the government has become stricter on enforcing immigration laws since the September 11, 2001 attacks ("9/11"), and 24% report that they personally have experienced some or a great deal of discrimination.[103]

Public attitudes about immigration in the U.S. were heavily influenced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. After the attacks, 52% of Americans believed that immigration was a good thing overall for the U.S., down from 62% the year before, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.[104] A 2008 Public Agenda survey found that half of Americans said tighter controls on immigration would do "a great deal" to enhance U.S. national security.[105] Harvard political scientist and historian Samuel P. Huntington argued in his 2004 book Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity that a potential future consequence of continuing massive immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, could lead to the bifurcation of the United States.[106][107]

The estimated population of illegal Mexican immigrants in the US decreased from approximately 7 million in 2007 to 6.1 million in 2011[108] Commentators link the reversal of the immigration trend to the economic downturn that started in 2008 and which meant fewer available jobs, and to the introduction of tough immigration laws in many states.[109][110][111][112] According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the net immigration of Mexican born persons had stagnated in 2010, and tended toward going into negative figures.[113]

More than 80 cities in the United States,[114] including Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Detroit, Jersey City, Minneapolis, Denver, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine, have sanctuary policies, which vary locally.[115]

Origin countries

Inflow of New Legal Permanent Residents by region, 2015–2020
Region 2015 % of total 2016 % of total 2017 % of total 2018[79] % of total 2019[80] % of total 2020[81] % of total Increase/Decrease% in 2020
Americas 438,435 41.7% 506,901 42.8% 492,726 43.7% 497,860 45.4% 461,710 44.8% 284,491 40.2% Decrease38.4%
Asia 419,297 39.9% 462,299 39.1% 424,743 37.7% 397,187 36.2% 364,761 35.4% 272,597 38.5% Decrease25.3%
Africa 101,415 9.7% 113,426 9.6% 118,824 10.5% 115,736 10.6% 111,194 10.8% 76,649 10.8% Decrease31.1%
Europe 85,803 8.2% 93,567 7.9% 84,335 7.5% 80,024 7.3% 87,597 8.5% 68,994 9.8% Decrease21.2%
Australia and Oceania 5,404 0.5% 5,588 0.5% 5,071 0.5% 4,653 0.4% 5,359 0.5% 3,998 0.6% Decrease25.4%
Unknown 677 0.1% 1,724 0.1% 1,468 0.1% 1,151 0.1% 1,144 0.1% 633 >0.1% Decrease
Total 1,051,031 100% 1,183,505 100% 1,127,167 100% 1,096,611 100% 1,031,765 100% 707,632 100% Decrease31.4%

Source: US Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics[116][117][118][119]

Top 15 sending countries, 2015–2020:[120][119]
Country 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
 Mexico 158,619 174,534 170,581 161,858 156,052 100,325
 India 64,116 64,687 60,394 59,821 54,495 46,363
 China 74,558 81,772 71,565 65,214 62,248 41,483
 Dominican Republic 50,610 61,161 58,520 57,413 49,911 30,005
 Vietnam 30,832 41,451 38,231 33,834 39,712 29,995
 Philippines 56,478 53,287 49,147 47,258 45,920 25,491
 El Salvador 19,487 23,449 25,109 28,326 27,656 17,907
 Brazil 11,424 13,812 14,989 15,394 19,825 16,746
 Cuba 54,396 66,516 65,028 76,486 41,641 16,367
 South Korea 17,138 21,801 19,194 17,676 18,479 16,244
 Jamaica 17,642 23,350 21,905 20,347 21,689 12,826
 Nigeria 11,542 14,380 13,539 13,952 15,888 12,398
 Venezuela 9,144 10,772 11,809 11,762 15,720 12,136
 Colombia 17,316 18,610 17,956 17,545 19,841 11,989
 Afghanistan 8,328 12,513 19,538 12,935 10,136 11,407
Total 1,051,031 1,183,505 1,127,167 1,096,611 1,031,765 707,362


Inflow of New Legal Permanent Residents by continent in 2020:[81]

  Americas (40.2%)
  Asia (38.5%)
  Africa (10.8%)
  Europe (9.8%)
  Unknown (0.1%)

Languages spoken among U.S. immigrants, 2016:[77]

  English only (16%)
  Spanish (43%)
  Chinese (6%)
  Hindi and related languages (5%)
  French (3%)
  Vietnamese (3%)
  Arabic (2%)
  Other (18%)


Extent and destinations

Little Italy in New York, ca.1900
Crowd at the Philippine Independence Day Parade in New York City
Galveston Immigration Stations
Year[121] Number of
1850 2,244,602 9.7
1860 4,138,697 13.2
1870 5,567,229 14.4
1880 6,679,943 13.3
1890 9,249,547 14.8
1900 10,341,276 13.6
1910 13,515,886 14.7
1920 13,920,692 13.2
1930 14,204,149 11.6
1940 11,594,896 8.8
1950 10,347,395 6.9
1960 9,738,091 5.4
1970 9,619,302 4.7
1980 14,079,906 6.2
1990 19,767,316 7.9
2000 31,107,889 11.1
2010 39,956,000 12.9
2017 44,525,500 13.7
2018 44,728,502 13.5
2019 44,932,799

The United States admitted more legal immigrants from 1991 to 2000, between ten and eleven million, than in any previous decade. In the most recent decade,[when?] the 10 million legal immigrants that settled in the U.S. represent roughly one third of the annual growth, as the U.S. population increased by 32 million (from 249 million to 281 million). By comparison, the highest previous decade was the 1900s, when 8.8 million people arrived, increasing the total U.S. population by one percent every year. Specifically, "nearly 15% of Americans were foreign-born in 1910, while in 1999, only about 10% were foreign-born".[126]

By 1970, immigrants accounted for 4.7 percent of the US population and rising to 6.2 percent in 1980, with an estimated 12.5 percent in 2009.[127] As of 2010, 25% of US residents under age 18 were first- or second-generation immigrants.[128] Eight percent of all babies born in the U.S. in 2008 belonged to illegal immigrant parents, according to a recent[when?] analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center.[129]

Legal immigration to the U.S. increased from 250,000 in the 1930s, to 2.5 million in the 1950s, to 4.5 million in the 1970s, and to 7.3 million in the 1980s, before becoming stable at about 10 million in the 1990s.[130] Since 2000, legal immigrants to the United States number approximately 1,000,000 per year, of whom about 600,000 are Change of Status who already are in the U.S. Legal immigrants to the United States now[when?] are at their highest level ever, at just over 37,000,000 legal immigrants. In reports in 2005–2006, estimates of illegal immigration ranged from 700,000 to 1,500,000 per year.[131][132] Immigration led to a 57.4% increase in foreign-born population from 1990 to 2000.[133]

Foreign-born immigration has caused the U.S. population to continue its rapid increase with the foreign-born population doubling from almost 20 million in 1990 to over 47 million in 2015.[1] In 2018, there were almost 90 million immigrants and U.S.-born children of immigrants (second-generation Americans) in the United States, accounting for 28% of the overall U.S. population.[134]

While immigration has increased drastically over the 20th century, the foreign-born share of the population is, at 13.4, only somewhat below what it was at its peak in 1910 at 14.7%. 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 decreased to 25%, with a rise in immigrants from East, Central, and South Europe, summing up to 64%. Animosity towards these different and foreign immigrants increased in the United States, resulting in much legislation to limit immigration.[citation needed]

Contemporary immigrants settle predominantly in seven states, California, New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois, comprising about 44% of the U.S. population as a whole. The combined total immigrant population of these seven states was 70% of the total foreign-born population in 2000.


Foreign-born population of the United States in 2017, by country of birth.
  United States and its territories
Immigrants to the United States (2012–2016) per thousand inhabitants of each country of origin (2012).
  United States and its territories

Foreign-born population in the United States in 2019 by country of birth[124][135]

Country of birth Population (2019) 2018–2019
Total foreign-born Increase44,932,799 +204,297
 Mexico Decrease10,931,939 −239,954
 India Increase2,688,075 +35,222
 China[a] Increase2,250,230 +28,287
 Philippines Increase2,045,248 +31,492
 El Salvador Decrease1,412,101 −7,229
 Vietnam Increase1,383,779 +38,026
 Cuba Increase1,359,990 +16,030
 Dominican Republic Decrease1,169,420 −8,444
 South Korea[b] Decrease1,038,885 −214
 Guatemala Increase1,111,495 +104,508
 Colombia Increase808,148 +18,587
 Canada Decrease797,158 −16,506
 Jamaica Increase772,215 +38,786
 Honduras Increase745,838 +99,585
 Haiti Increase701,688 +14,502
 United Kingdom[c] Decrease687,186 −12,007
 Germany Decrease537,691 −21,411
 Brazil Increase502,104 +29,467
 Venezuela Increase465,235 +71,394
 Peru Decrease446,063 −21,109
 Ecuador Decrease431,150 −11,955
 Poland Increase404,107 +5,321
 Pakistan Increase398,399 +19,296
 Nigeria Increase392,811 +18,100
 Russia Increase392,422 +8,917
 Iran Increase385,473 +3,522
 Taiwan Decrease371,851 −18,299
 Ukraine Increase354,832 +28,947
 Japan Decrease333,273 −28,292
 Italy Decrease314,867 −10,036
 Bangladesh Increase261,348 +296
 Thailand Decrease260,820 −8,561
 Nicaragua Decrease257,343 −4,734
 Ethiopia Decrease256,032 −22,051
 Guyana Decrease253,847 −26,450
 Iraq Increase249,670 +12,248
 Hong Kong Decrease231,469 −1,779
 Trinidad and Tobago Decrease212,798 −9,770
 Argentina Increase210,767 +16,346
 Egypt[d] Decrease205,852 −1,727
 Ghana Increase199,163 +3,792
 Laos Decrease176,904 −7,486
 France[e] Decrease171,452 −19,727
 Romania Increase167,751 +5,308
   Nepal Increase166,651 +18,017
 Portugal Decrease161,500 −8,390
 Kenya Increase153,414 +6,854
 Burma Increase150,877 +10,486
 Cambodia Increase149,326 +10,792
 Israel[f] Increase132,477 +2,551
 Afghanistan Increase132,160 +18,491
 Lebanon Decrease120,065 −1,861
 Greece Decrease119,571 −6,128
 Turkey Decrease117,291 −9,203
 Spain Decrease116,077 −1,713
 Somalia Increase114,607 +11,230
 Ireland Decrease111,886 −13,104
 South Africa Increase111,116 +11,444
 Bosnia and Herzegovina Decrease104,612 −957
 Indonesia Increase101,622 +7,543
 Panama Decrease101,076 −2,674
 Australia Increase98,969 +8,382
 Liberia Increase98,116 +12,824
 Albania Increase94,856 +4,617
 Chile Decrease93,950 −9,080
 Costa Rica Increase93,620 +6,237
 Syria[g] Decrease92,514 −19,252
 Jordan[h] Increase90,018 +2,335
 Armenia Increase87,419 +151
 Netherlands[i] Decrease82,603 −5,632
 Bolivia Increase79,804 +447
 Morocco[j] Decrease77,434 −1,978
 Saudi Arabia Increase76,840 +2,166
 Malaysia Decrease76,712 −5,844
 Cameroon Decrease72,634 −5,374
former  Czechoslovakia Increase68,312 +3,960
 Bulgaria Decrease66,950 −5,239
 Uzbekistan Decrease65,216 −3,296
 Hungary Decrease64,852 −2,413
 Democratic Republic of the Congo 60,512 +/−
 Yemen Decrease58,627 −3,795
 Belarus Decrease57,315 −13,654
 Barbados Decrease52,279 −1,097
 Sri Lanka Decrease51,695 −305
 Sudan Decrease51,351 −1,300
 Eritrea Increase49,355 +4,245
 Uruguay Increase48,900 +2,638
 Fiji Increase48,710 +5,195
 Moldova Decrease46,388 −1,379
 Sierra Leone Decrease45,506 −2,328
 Belize Decrease44,364 −2,923
 Uganda 44,150 +/−
 Sweden Decrease43,506 −6,236
  Switzerland Increase42,958 +8,536
 Bahamas Increase40,067 +10,851
 Austria Increase39,083 +100
 Serbia Increase39,020 +1,585
 Republic of the Congo 38,932 +/−
 Croatia Decrease37,044 −1,941
 Cape Verde Decrease36,410 −663
 Dominica Decrease36,372 −721
 Singapore Decrease33,736 −466
 Kazakhstan Increase33,438 +5,148
 Lithuania Decrease32,655 −445
 Belgium Decrease32,323 −3,431
 Denmark Increase31,872 +2,541
 Kuwait Decrease31,113 −4,494
 Senegal 30,828 +/−
 North Macedonia Increase30,359 +4,456
 Micronesia 30,136 +/−
 Grenada Decrease29,722 −11,288
 Latvia Decrease23,300 −2,039
 Zimbabwe 20,519 +/−
 Norway Decrease20,143 −4,928
  1. ^ Excluding Hong Kong, and, also Taiwan (Republic of China).
  2. ^ Including North Korea.
  3. ^ Including Crown dependencies.
  4. ^ Including the Gaza Strip.
  5. ^ Metropolitan France only.
  6. ^ Excluding the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories.
  7. ^ Including the Golan Heights.
  8. ^ Including the West Bank.
  9. ^ European Netherlands only.
  10. ^ Excluding Western Sahara.

Effects of immigration


People are seen standing in a field at the Kennedy Space Center during a naturalization ceremony.
A U.S. naturalization ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center, 2010.

The Census Bureau estimates the US population will increase from 317 million in 2014 to 417 million in 2060 with immigration, when nearly 20% will be foreign-born.[136] A 2015 report from the Pew Research Center projects that by 2065, non-Hispanic white people will account for 46% of the population, down from the 2005 figure of 67%.[137] Non-Hispanic white people made up 85% of the population in 1960.[138] It also foresees the population of Hispanic people increasing from 17% in 2014 to 29% by 2060. The population of Asian people is expected to nearly double in 2060.[136] Overall, the Pew Report predicts the population of the United States will rise from 296 million in 2005 to 441 million in 2065, but only to 338 million with no immigration.[137]

In 35 of the country's 50 largest cities, non-Hispanic white people were predicted to be in the minority at the last[when?] census, or are already.[139] In California, non-Hispanic white people decreased from 80% of the state's population in 1970 to 42% in 2001[140] and 39% in 2013.[141]

Immigrant segregation declined in the first half of the 20th century, but has been increasing over the past few decades.[when?] This has caused questioning of the correctness of describing the United States as a melting pot. One explanation is that groups with lower socioeconomic status concentrate in more densely-populated areas that have access to public transit while groups with higher socioeconomic status move to suburban areas. Another is that some recent immigrant groups are more culturally and linguistically different from earlier groups and prefer to live together due to factors such as communication costs.[142] Another explanation for increased segregation is white flight.[143]

Country of birth for the foreign-born population in the United States
Top ten countries 1990 2000 2010 2019
Mexico 4,298,014 9,177,487 11,711,103 10,931,939
India 450,406 1,022,552 1,780,322 2,688,075
China[a] 921,070 1,518,652 2,166,526 2,481,699
Philippines 912,674 1,369,070 1,777,588 2,045,248
El Salvador 465,433 817,336 1,214,049 1,412,101
Vietnam 543,262 988,174 1,240,542 1,383,779
Cuba 736,971 872,716 1,104,679 1,359,990
Dominican Republic 347,858 687,677 879,187 1,169,420
Guatemala 225,739 480,665 830,824 1,111,495
South Korea 568,397 864,125 1,100,422 1,038,885
All of Latin America 8,407,837 16,086,974 21,224,087
All Immigrants 19,767,316 31,107,889 39,955,854 44,932,799
  1. ^ Including Hong Kong, excluding Taiwan (Republic of China).

Source: 1990, 2000 and 2010 decennial Censuses[144] and 2019 American Community Survey[135]


Mexican immigrants are seen protesting for more rights in San Jose.
Mexican immigrants march for more rights in Northern California's largest city, San Jose (2006).

A survey of leading economists shows a consensus for the view that high-skilled immigration makes the average American better off.[145] A survey of the same economists also shows strong support for the notion that low-skilled immigration makes the average American better off.[146] According to David Card, Christian Dustmann, and Ian Preston, "most existing studies of the economic impacts of immigration suggest these impacts are small, and on average benefit the native population".[147] In a survey of the existing literature, Örn B Bodvarsson and Hendrik Van den Berg wrote, "a comparison of the evidence from all the studies ... makes it clear that, with very few exceptions, there is no strong statistical support for the view held by many members of the public, namely that immigration has an adverse effect on native-born workers in the destination country".[148]

Overall economic prosperity

Whereas the impact on the average native tends to be small and positive, studies show more mixed results for low-skilled natives, but whether the effects are positive or negative, they tend to be small either way.[149][150]

Immigrants may often do types of work that natives are largely unwilling to do, contributing to greater economic prosperity for the economy as a whole: for instance, Mexican migrant workers taking up manual farm work in the United States has close to zero effect on native employment in that occupation, which means that the effect of Mexican workers on U.S. employment outside farm work was therefore most likely positive, since they raised overall economic productivity.[151] Research indicates that immigrants are more likely to work in risky jobs than U.S.-born workers, partly due to differences in average characteristics, such as immigrants' lower English language ability and educational attainment.[152] Further, some studies indicate that higher ethnic concentration in metropolitan areas is positively related to the probability of self-employment of immigrants.[153]

Research also suggests that diversity has a net positive effect on productivity[154][155] and economic prosperity.[156][157] A study by Nathan Nunn, Nancy Qian and Sandra Sequeira found that the Age of Mass Migration (1850–1920) has had substantially beneficial long-term effects on U.S. economic prosperity: "locations with more historical immigration today have higher incomes, less poverty, less unemployment, higher rates of urbanization, and greater educational attainment. The long-run effects appear to arise from the persistence of sizeable short-run benefits, including earlier and more intensive industrialization, increased agricultural productivity, and more innovation."[158] The authors also found that the immigration had short-term benefits: "that there is no evidence that these long-run benefits come at short-run costs. In fact, immigration immediately led to economic benefits that took the form of higher incomes, higher productivity, more innovation, and more industrialization".[158]

Research has also found that migration leads to greater trade in goods and services.[159]

Using 130 years of data on historical migrations to the United States, one study found "that a doubling of the number of residents with ancestry from a given foreign country relative to the mean increases by 4.2 percentage points the probability that at least one local firm invests in that country, and increases by 31% the number of employees at domestic recipients of FDI from that country. The size of these effects increases with the ethnic diversity of the local population, the geographic distance to the origin country, and the ethno-linguistic fractionalization of the origin country."[160]

Some research suggests that immigration can offset some of the adverse effects of automation on native labor outcomes in the United States.[161][162] By increasing overall demand, immigrants could push natives out of low-skilled manual labor into better-paying occupations.[161][162] A 2018 study in the American Economic Review found that the Bracero program (which allowed almost half a million Mexican workers to do seasonal farm labor in the United States) did not have any adverse impact on the labor market outcomes of American-born farm workers.[163]

Fiscal effects

A 2011 literature review of the economic impacts of immigration found that the net fiscal impact of migrants varies across studies but that the most credible analyses typically find small and positive fiscal effects on average.[164] According to the authors, "the net social impact of an immigrant over his or her lifetime depends substantially and in predictable ways on the immigrant's age at arrival, education, reason for migration, and similar".[164]

A 2016 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that over a 75-year time horizon, "the fiscal impacts of immigrants are generally positive at the federal level and generally negative at the state and local level".[165] The reason for the costs to state and local governments is that the cost of educating the immigrants' children is paid by state and local governments.[166] According to a 2007 literature review by the Congressional Budget Office, "Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long-term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use."[167]

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.[168] The NRC report found that although immigrants, especially those from Latin America, caused a net loss in terms of taxes paid versus social services received, immigration can provide an overall gain to the domestic economy 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 low-skilled jobs, some immigrants specialize in activities that otherwise would not exist in an area, and thus can be beneficial for all domestic residents.[169]

Immigration and foreign labor documentation fees increased over 80% in 2007, with over 90% of funding for USCIS derived from immigration application fees, creating many USCIS jobs involving immigration to the US, such as immigration interview officials, fingerprint processors, Department of Homeland Security, etc.[170]


Overall immigration has not had much effect on native wage inequality[171][172] but low-skill immigration has been linked to greater income inequality in the native population.[173]

Impact of undocumented immigrants

Research on the economic effects of undocumented immigrants is scant but existing peer-reviewed studies suggest that the effects are positive for the native population[174][175] and public coffers.[167] A 2015 study shows that "increasing deportation rates and tightening border control weakens low-skilled labor markets, increasing unemployment of native low-skilled workers. Legalization, instead, decreases the unemployment rate of low-skilled natives and increases income per native."[176] Studies show that legalization of undocumented immigrants would boost the U.S. economy; a 2013 study found that granting legal status to undocumented immigrants would raise their incomes by a quarter (increasing U.S. GDP by approximately $1.4 trillion over a ten-year period),[177] and 2016 study found that "legalization would increase the economic contribution of the unauthorized population by about 20%, to 3.6% of private-sector GDP."[178]

A 2007 literature by the Congressional Budget Office found that estimating the fiscal effects of undocumented immigrants has proven difficult: "currently available estimates have significant limitations; therefore, using them to determine an aggregate effect across all states would be difficult and prone to considerable error". The impact of undocumented immigrants differs on federal levels than state and local levels,[167] with research suggesting modest fiscal costs at the state and local levels but with substantial fiscal gains at the federal level.[179]

In 2009, a study by the Cato Institute, a free market think tank, found that legalization of low-skilled illegal resident workers in the US would result in a net increase in US GDP of $180 billion over ten years.[180] The Cato Institute study did not examine the impact on per capita income for most Americans. Jason Riley notes that because of progressive income taxation, in which the top 1% of earners pay 37% of federal income taxes (even though they actually pay a lower tax percentage based on their income), 60% of Americans collect more in government services than they pay in, which also reflects on immigrants.[181] In any event, the typical immigrant and their children will pay a net $80,000 more in their lifetime than they collect in government services according to the NAS.[182] Legal immigration policy is set to maximize net taxation. Illegal immigrants even after an amnesty tend to be recipients of more services than they pay in taxes. In 2010, an econometrics study by a Rutgers economist found that immigration helped increase bilateral trade when the incoming people were connected via networks to their country of origin, particularly boosting trade of final goods as opposed to intermediate goods, but that the trade benefit weakened when the immigrants became assimilated into American culture.[183]

According to NPR in 2005, about 3% of illegal immigrants were working in agriculture.[184] The H-2A visa allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.[185] The passing of tough immigration laws in several states from around 2009 provides a number of practical case studies. The state of Georgia passed immigration law HB 87 in 2011;[186] this led, according to the coalition of top Kansas businesses, to 50% of its agricultural produce being left to rot in the fields, at a cost to the state of more than $400 million. Overall losses caused by the act were $1 billion; it was estimated that the figure would become over $20 billion if all the estimated 325,000 unauthorized workers left Georgia. The cost to Alabama of its crackdown in June 2011 has been estimated at almost $11 billion, with up to 80,000 unauthorized immigrant workers leaving the state.[187]

Impact of refugees

Studies of refugees' impact on native welfare are scant but the existing literature shows a positive fiscal impact and mixed results (negative, positive and no significant effects) on native welfare.[188][189][190][191] A 2017 paper by Evans and Fitzgerald found that refugees to the United States pay "$21,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their first 20 years in the U.S."[190] An internal study by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Trump administration, which was suppressed and not shown to the public, found that refugees to the United States brought in $63 billion more in government revenues than they cost the government.[191] According to labor economist Giovanni Peri, the existing literature suggests that there are no economic reasons why the American labor market could not easily absorb 100,000 Syrian refugees in a year.[192] Refugees integrate more slowly into host countries' labor markets than labor migrants, in part due to the loss and depreciation of human capital and credentials during the asylum procedure.[193]

Garment factories in Manhattan's Chinatown

Innovation and entrepreneurship

According to one survey of the existing economic literature, "much of the existing research points towards positive net contributions by immigrant entrepreneurs".[194] Areas where immigrants are more prevalent in the United States have substantially more innovation (as measured by patenting and citations).[195] Immigrants to the United States start businesses at higher rates than natives.[196] According to a 2018 paper, "first-generation immigrants create about 25% of new firms in the United States, but this share exceeds 40% in some states".[197] Another 2018 paper links H-1B visa holders to innovation.[198]

Immigrants have been linked to greater invention and innovation in the US.[199] According to one report, "immigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America's startup companies valued at $1 billion or more and are key members of management or product development teams in over 70 percent (62 of 87) of these companies".[200] Foreign doctoral students are a major source of innovation in the American economy.[201] In the United States, immigrant workers hold a disproportionate share of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM): "In 2013, foreign-born workers accounted for 19.2 percent of STEM workers with a bachelor's degree, 40.7 percent of those with a master's degree, and more than half—54.5 percent—of those with a Ph.D."[202]

The Kauffman Foundation's index of entrepreneurial activity is nearly 40% higher for immigrants than for natives.[203] Immigrants were involved in the founding of many prominent American high-tech companies, such as Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Sun Microsystems, and eBay.[204]

Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century.
Bangladeshi immigrant Fazlur Rahman Khan was responsible for the engineering design of Sears Tower (now Willis Tower),[205][206] the tallest building in the world until 1998.[207]



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. On March 14, 1891, a lynch mob stormed a local jail and lynched several Italians following the acquittal of several Sicilian immigrants alleged to be involved in the murder of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy. The Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at limiting immigration overall, and making sure that the nationalities of new arrivals matched the overall national profile.


A 2014 meta-analysis of racial discrimination in product markets found extensive evidence of minority applicants being quoted higher prices for products.[208] A 1995 study found that car dealers "quoted significantly lower prices to white males than to black or female test buyers using identical, scripted bargaining strategies".[209] A 2013 study found that eBay sellers of iPods received 21 percent more offers if a white hand held the iPod in the photo than a black hand.[210]

Criminal justice system

Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in disproportionately high numbers of racial minorities among crime suspects.[211][212][213][214] Research also suggests that there may be possible discrimination by the judicial system, which contributes to a higher number of convictions for racial minorities.[215][216][217][218][219] A 2012 study found that "(i) juries formed from all-white jury pools convict black defendants significantly (16 percentage points) more often than white defendants, and (ii) this gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one black member."[217] Research has found evidence of in-group bias, where "black (white) juveniles who are randomly assigned to black (white) judges are more likely to get incarcerated (as opposed to being placed on probation), and they receive longer sentences".[219] In-group bias has also been observed when it comes to traffic citations, as black and white police officers are more likely to cite out-groups.[213]


A 2015 study using correspondence tests "found that when considering requests from prospective students seeking mentoring in the future, faculty were significantly more responsive to white males than to all other categories of students, collectively, particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions".[220] Through affirmative action, there is reason to believe that elite colleges favor minority applicants.[221]


A 2014 meta-analysis found extensive evidence of racial discrimination in the American housing market.[208] Minority applicants for housing needed to make many more enquiries to view properties.[208] Geographical steering of African-Americans in US housing remained significant.[208] A 2003 study finds "evidence that agents interpret an initial housing request as an indication of a customer's preferences, but also are more likely to withhold a house from all customers when it is in an integrated suburban neighborhood (redlining). Moreover, agents' marketing efforts increase with asking price for white, but not for black, customers; blacks are more likely than whites to see houses in suburban, integrated areas (steering); and the houses agents show are more likely to deviate from the initial request when the customer is black than when the customer is white. These three findings are consistent with the possibility that agents act upon the belief that some types of transactions are relatively unlikely for black customers (statistical discrimination)."[222]

A report by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development where the department sent African-American people and white people to look at apartments found that African-American people were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale.[223]

Labor market

Several meta-analyses find extensive evidence of ethnic and racial discrimination in hiring in the American labor market.[208][224][225] A 2016 meta-analysis of 738 correspondence tests—tests where identical CVs for stereotypically black and white names were sent to employers—in 43 separate studies conducted in OECD countries between 1990 and 2015 found that there is extensive racial discrimination in hiring decisions in Europe and North-America.[225] These correspondence tests showed that equivalent minority candidates need to send around 50% more applications to be invited for an interview than majority candidates.[225][226] A study that examined the job applications of actual people provided with identical résumés and similar interview training showed that African-American applicants with no criminal record were offered jobs at a rate as low as white applicants who had criminal records.[227]

Discrimination between minority groups

Racist thinking among and between minority groups does occur;[228][229] examples of this are conflicts between black people and Korean immigrants,[230] notably in the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, and between African Americans and non-white Latino immigrants.[231][232] There has been a long running racial tension between African American and Mexican prison gangs, as well as significant riots in California prisons where they have targeted each other, for ethnic reasons.[233][234] There have been reports of racially-motivated attacks against African Americans who have moved into neighborhoods occupied mostly by people of Mexican origin, and vice versa.[235][236] There has also been an increase in violence between non-Hispanic white people and Latino immigrants, and between African immigrants and African Americans.[237]


A 2018 study in the American Sociological Review found that within racial groups, most immigrants to the United States had fully assimilated within a span of 20 years.[238] Immigrants arriving in the United States after 1994 assimilate more rapidly than immigrants who arrived in previous periods.[238] Measuring assimilation can be difficult due to "ethnic attrition", which refers to when descendants of migrants cease to self-identify with the nationality or ethnicity of their ancestors. This means that successful cases of assimilation will be underestimated. Research shows that ethnic attrition is sizable in Hispanic and Asian immigrant groups in the United States.[239][240] By taking ethnic attrition into account, the assimilation rate of Hispanics in the United States improves significantly.[239][241] A 2016 paper challenges the view that cultural differences are necessarily an obstacle to long-run economic performance of migrants. It finds that "first generation migrants seem to be less likely to success the more culturally distant they are, but this effect vanishes as time spent in the US increases".[242] A 2020 study found that recent immigrants to the United States assimilated at a similar pace as historical immigrants.[243]

Religious diversity

Immigration from South Asia and elsewhere has contributed to enlarging the religious composition of the United States. Islam in the United States is growing mainly due to immigration. Hinduism in the United States, Buddhism in the United States, and Sikhism in the United States are other examples.[244] Whereas non-Christians together constitute only 4% of the U.S. population, they made up 20% of the 2003 cohort of new immigrants.[245]

Since 1992, an estimated 1.7 million Muslims, approximately 1 million Hindus, and approximately 1 million Buddhists have immigrated legally to the United States.[246]

Conversely, non-religious people are underrepresented in the immigrant populations. Although "other" non-Christian religions are also slightly more common among immigrants than among U.S. adults—1.9% compared with 1.0%—those professing no religion are slightly under-represented among new immigrants. Whereas 12% of immigrants said they had no religion, the figure was 15% for adult Americans.[245] This lack of representation for non-religious people could be related to stigmas around atheists and agnostics or could relate to the need for identity when entering a new country.

Labor unions

The American Federation of Labor (AFL), a coalition of labor unions formed in the 1880s, vigorously opposed unrestricted immigration from Europe for moral, cultural, and racial reasons. The issue unified the workers who feared that an influx of new workers would flood the labor market and lower wages.[247] Nativism was not a factor because upwards of half the union members were themselves immigrants or the sons of immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Britain. However, nativism was a factor when the AFL even more strenuously opposed all immigration from Asia because it represented (to its Euro-American members) an alien culture that could not be assimilated into American society. The AFL intensified its opposition after 1906 and was instrumental in passing immigration restriction bills from the 1890s to the 1920s, such as the 1921 Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924, and seeing that they were strictly enforced.[248][249]

Mink (1986) concluded that the AFL and the Democratic Party were linked partly on the basis of immigration issues, noting the large corporations, which supported the Republicans, wanted more immigration to augment their labor force.[248]

United Farm Workers during Cesar Chavez tenure was committed to restricting immigration. Chavez and Dolores Huerta, cofounder and president of the UFW, fought the Bracero Program that existed from 1942 to 1964. Their opposition stemmed from their belief that the program undermined U.S. workers and exploited the migrant workers. Since the Bracero Program ensured a constant supply of cheap immigrant labor for growers, immigrants could not protest any infringement of their rights, lest they be fired and replaced. Their efforts contributed to Congress ending the Bracero Program in 1964. In 1973, the UFW was one of the first labor unions to oppose proposed employer sanctions that would have prohibited hiring illegal immigrants.

On a few occasions, concerns that illegal immigrant labor would undermine UFW strike campaigns led to a number of controversial events, which the UFW describes as anti-strikebreaking events, but which have also been interpreted as being anti-immigrant. In 1973, Chavez and members of the UFW marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys to the border of Mexico to protest growers' use of illegal immigrants as strikebreakers. Joining him on the march were Reverend Ralph Abernathy and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale.[250] In its early years, the UFW and Chavez went so far as to report illegal immigrants who served as strikebreaking replacement workers (as well as those who refused to unionize) to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.[251][252][253][254][255]

In 1973, the United Farm Workers set up a "wet line" along the United States–Mexico border to prevent Mexican immigrants from entering the United States illegally and potentially undermining the UFW's unionization efforts.[256] During one such event, in which Chavez was not involved, some UFW members, under the guidance of Chavez's cousin Manuel, physically attacked the strikebreakers after peaceful attempts to persuade them not to cross the border failed.[257][258][259]

In 1979, Chavez used a forum of a U.S. Senate committee hearing to denounce the federal immigration service, in which he said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service purportedly refused to arrest illegal Mexican immigrants who Chavez claims are being used to break the union's strike.[260]


Immigrant rights march in downtown Los Angeles, California on May Day, 2006.

A Boston Globe article attributed Barack Obama's win in the 2008 U.S. presidential election to a marked reduction over the preceding decades in the percentage of white people in the American electorate, attributing this demographic change to the Immigration Act of 1965.[42] The article quoted Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of the New Democrat Network, as having said that the Act is "the most important piece of legislation that no one's ever heard of", and that it "set America on a very different demographic course than the previous 300 years".[42]

Immigrants differ on their political views; however, the Democratic Party is considered to be in a far stronger position among immigrants overall.[261][262] Research shows that religious affiliation can also significantly impact both the social values and voting patterns of immigrants, as well as the broader American population. Hispanic evangelicals, for example, are more strongly conservative than non-Hispanic evangelicals.[263] This trend is often similar for Hispanics or others strongly identifying with the Catholic Church, a religion that strongly opposes abortion and gay marriage.

A rally in Chicago, part of the Great American Boycott and 2006 U.S. immigration reform protests, on May 1, 2006.

The key interests groups that lobby on immigration are religious, ethnic and business groups, together with some liberals and some conservative public policy organizations. Both the pro- and anti- groups affect policy.[264]

Studies have suggested that some special interest groups lobby for less immigration for their own group and more immigration for other groups since they see effects of immigration, such as increased labor competition, as detrimental when affecting their own group but beneficial when affecting other groups.[citation needed]

A 2011 paper found that both pro- and anti-immigration special interest groups play a role in migration policy. "Barriers to migration are lower in sectors in which business lobbies incur larger lobbying expenditures and higher in sectors where labor unions are more important."[264] A 2011 study examining the voting of US representatives on migration policy suggests that "representatives from more skilled labor abundant districts are more likely to support an open immigration policy towards the unskilled, whereas the opposite is true for representatives from more unskilled labor abundant districts".[265]

After the 2010 election, Gary Segura of Latino Decisions stated that Hispanic voters influenced the outcome and "may have saved the Senate for Democrats".[266] Several ethnic lobbies support immigration reforms that would allow illegal immigrants that have succeeded in entering to gain citizenship. They may also lobby for special arrangements for their own group. The Chairman for the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform has stated that "the Irish Lobby will push for any special arrangement it can get—'as will every other ethnic group in the country'".[267][268] The irredentist and ethnic separatist movements for Reconquista and Aztlán see immigration from Mexico as strengthening their cause.[269][270]

The book Ethnic Lobbies and US Foreign Policy (2009) states that several ethnic special interest groups are involved in pro-immigration lobbying. Ethnic lobbies also influence foreign policy. The authors wrote that "Increasingly, ethnic tensions surface in electoral races, with House, Senate, and gubernatorial contests serving as proxy battlegrounds for antagonistic ethnoracial groups and communities. In addition, ethnic politics affect party politics as well, as groups compete for relative political power within a party". However, the authors argued that ethnic interest groups, in general, do not currently[when?] have too much power in foreign policy and can balance other special interest groups.[271]

In a 2012 news story, Reuters reported, "Strong support from Hispanics, the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, helped tip President Barack Obama's fortunes as he secured a second term in the White House, according to Election Day polling."[272]

Lately,[when?] there is talk among several Republican leaders, such as governors Bobby Jindal and Susana Martinez, of taking a new, friendlier approach to immigration. Former US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez is promoting the creation of Republicans for Immigration Reform.[273][274]

Bernie Sanders opposes guest worker programs[275] and is also skeptical about skilled immigrant (H-1B) visas, saying, "Last year, the top 10 employers of H-1B guest workers were all offshore outsourcing companies. These firms are responsible for shipping large numbers of American information technology jobs to India and other countries."[164][276] In an interview with Vox he stated his opposition to an open borders immigration policy, describing it as:

... a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States ... you're doing away with the concept of a nation-state. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.[277][278]

In April 2018, then-president Trump called for National Guard at the border to secure the ongoing attempts at a border wall along the United States–Mexico border. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Defense Secretary James N. Mattis has signed an order to send up to 4,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.–Mexico border but barred them from interacting with migrants detained by the Border Patrol in most circumstances".[279]

The caravan of migrants from Central America have reached the United States to seek asylum. The last of the caravan have arrived and are processing as of May 4, 2018.[280] Remarks by Attorney General Sessions have expressed hesitation with asylum seekers. Sessions has stated, "The system is being gamed; there's no doubt about it".[281] This statement implied asylum seekers were attempting to immigrate to the United States for work or various other reasons rather than seeking refuge.[tone]


A 2020 study found no evidence that immigration was associated with adverse health impacts for native-born Americans.[282] To the contrary, the study found that "the presence of low‐skilled immigrants may improve the health of low‐skilled U.S.‐born individuals", possibly by moving low-skilled Americans from physically dangerous and risky jobs toward occupations that require more communication and interactive ability.[282]

On average, per capita health care spending is lower for immigrants than it is for native-born Americans.[283] The non-emergency use of emergency rooms ostensibly indicates an incapacity to pay, yet some studies allege disproportionately lower access to unpaid healthcare by immigrants.[284] For this and other reasons, there have been various disputes about how much immigration is costing the United States public health system.[285] University of Maryland economist and Cato Institute scholar Julian Lincoln Simon concluded in 1995 that while immigrants probably pay more into the health system than they take out, this is not the case for elderly immigrants and refugees, who are more dependent on public services for survival.[286] Immigration itself may impact women's health. A 2017 study found that Latino women suffer higher rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) than native US women. Migration may worsen IPV rates and outcomes. Migration itself may not cause IPV, but it may make it more difficult for women to get help. According to Kim et al., the IPV is usually the result of unequal family structures rather than the process of migration.[287]

Immigration from areas of high incidences of disease is thought to have been one of the causes of the resurgence of tuberculosis (TB), chagas, and hepatitis in areas of low incidence.[288] 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.[289][290] To reduce the risk of diseases in low-incidence areas, the main countermeasure has been the screening of immigrants on arrival.[291] HIV/AIDS entered the United States in around 1969, likely through a single infected immigrant from Haiti.[292][293] Conversely, many new HIV infections in Mexico can be traced back to the United States.[294] People infected with HIV were banned from entering the United States in 1987 by executive order, but the 1993 statute supporting the ban was lifted in 2009. The executive branch is expected to administratively remove HIV from the list of infectious diseases barring immigration, but immigrants generally would need to show that they would not be a burden on public welfare.[295] Researchers have also found what is known as the "healthy immigrant effect", in which immigrants in general tend to be healthier than individuals born in the U.S.[296][297] Immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to have a medical visit labeled uncompensated care.[298]


There is no empirical evidence that either legal or illegal immigration increases crime in the United States.[13][299] In fact, a majority of studies in the U.S. have found lower crime rates among immigrants than among non-immigrants, and that higher concentrations of immigrants are associated with lower crime rates.[12][14][299] Explanations proposed to account for this relationship have included ethnic enclaves, self-selection, and the hypothesis that immigrants revitalize communities to which they emigrate.[300]

Some research even suggests that increases in immigration may partly explain the reduction in the U.S. crime rate.[301][302][303]

A 2005 study showed that immigration to large U.S. metropolitan areas does not increase, and in some cases decreases, crime rates there.[304] A 2009 study found that recent immigration was not associated with homicide in Austin, Texas.[305] The low crime-rates of immigrants to the United States despite having lower levels of education, lower levels of income and residing in urban areas (factors that should lead to higher crime-rates) may be due to lower rates of antisocial behavior among immigrants.[306] A 2015 study found that Mexican immigration to the United States was associated with an increase in aggravated assaults and a decrease in property crimes.[307] A 2016 study finds no link between immigrant populations and violent crime, although there is a small but significant association between undocumented immigrants and drug-related crime.[308]

A 2018 study found that undocumented immigration to the United States did not increase violent crime.[309] Research finds that Secure Communities, an immigration enforcement program which led to a quarter of a million of detentions (when the study was published; November 2014), had no observable impact on the crime rate.[310] A 2015 study found that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized almost 3 million immigrants, led to "decreases in crime of 3–5 percent, primarily due to decline in property crimes, equivalent to 120,000–180,000 fewer violent and property crimes committed each year due to legalization".[311]

According to one study, sanctuary cities—which adopt policies designed to not prosecute people solely for being an illegal immigrant—have no statistically meaningful effect on crime.[312]

One of the first political analyses in the U.S. of the relationship between immigration and crime was performed in the beginning of the 20th century by the Dillingham Commission, which found a relationship especially for immigrants from non-Northern European countries, resulting in the sweeping 1920s immigration reduction acts, including the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which favored immigration from northern and western Europe.[313] Recent[when?] research is skeptical of the conclusion drawn by the Dillingham Commission. One study finds that "major government commissions on immigration and crime in the early twentieth century relied on evidence that suffered from aggregation bias and the absence of accurate population data, which led them to present partial and sometimes misleading views of the immigrant-native criminality comparison. With improved data and methods, we find that in 1904, prison commitment rates for more serious crimes were quite similar by nativity for all ages except ages 18 and 19, for which the commitment rate for immigrants was higher than for the native-born. By 1930, immigrants were less likely than natives to be committed to prisons at all ages 20 and older, but this advantage disappears when one looks at commitments for violent offenses."[314]

For the early twentieth century, one study found that immigrants had "quite similar" imprisonment rates for major crimes as natives in 1904 but lower for major crimes (except violent offenses; the rate was similar) in 1930.[314] Contemporary commissions used dubious data and interpreted it in questionable ways.[314]

Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in disproportionately high numbers of immigrants among crime suspects.[211][212][315][214] Research also suggests that there may be possible discrimination by the judicial system, which contributes to a higher number of convictions for immigrants.[215][216][217][218][219]


Crimmigration has emerged as a field in which critical immigration scholars conceptualize the current immigration law enforcement system. Crimmigration is broadly defined as the convergence of the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement,[316] where immigration law enforcement has adopted the "criminal" law enforcement approach. This frames undocumented immigrants as "criminal" deviants and security risks.[317] Crime and migration control have become completely intertwined,[colloquialism] so much so that both undocumented and documented individuals suspected of being a noncitizen may be targeted.[317]

Using a "crimmigration" point of thought, César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández[317] explains the criminalization of undocumented immigrants began in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.[317] Michelle Alexander explores how the U.S. criminal justice system is made of "colorblind" policies and law enforcement practices that have shaped the mass incarceration of people of color into an era of "The New Jim Crow".[318] As Alexander and García Hernández state, overt racism and racist laws became culturally scorned, and covert racism became the norm.[317][318] This new form of racism focuses on penalizing criminal activity and promoting "neutral" rhetoric.[318][317]

"Crimmigration" recognizes how laws and policies throughout different states contribute to the convergence of criminal law enforcement and immigration law. For example, states are implementing a variety of immigration-related criminal offenses that are punishable by imprisonment. California, Oregon, and Wyoming criminalize the use of fraudulent immigration or citizenship documents.[319] Arizona allows judges to confine witnesses in certain "criminal" cases if they are suspected of being in the U.S. without documentation.[319] The most common violations of immigration law on the federal level are unauthorized entry (a federal misdemeanor) and unauthorized reentry (a federal felony). These "offenses" deemed as "crimes" under immigration law set the tone of "crimmigration" and for what García Hernández refers to as the "removal pipeline" of immigrants.[319]

Some scholars focus on the organization of "crimmigration" as it relates to the mass removal of certain immigrants. Jennifer Chacón finds that immigration law enforcement is being decentralized.[320] Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are the central law enforcement agencies in control of enforcing immigration law. However, other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, such as sheriff's offices, municipal police departments, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA), aid in immigrant removal.[320] In 1996, Congress expanded power to state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law. These agencies keep people locked up in jails or prison when they receive an "immigration detainer" from ICE,[319] and therefore aid in interior enforcement.[320] In addition, some agencies participate in the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program ("SCAAP"), which gives these agencies financial incentives to cooperate with ICE in identifying immigrants in their custody.[319]


Scientific laboratories and startup Internet opportunities have been a significant factor in immigration to the United States. By 2000, 23% of scientists with a PhD in the U.S. were immigrants, including 40% of those in engineering and computers.[321] Roughly a third of the United States' college and universities graduate students in STEM fields are foreign nationals—in some states it is well over half of their graduate students.

On Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014, the presidents of 28 Catholic and Jesuit colleges and universities joined the "Fast for Families" movement.[322] The "Fast for Families" movement reignited[colloquialism] the immigration debate in the autumn of 2013 when the movement's leaders, supported by many members of Congress and the President, fasted for twenty-two days on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.[323]

A study on public schools in California found that white enrollment declined in response to increases in the number of Spanish-speaking Limited English Proficient and Hispanic students. This white flight was greater for schools with relatively larger proportions of Spanish-speaking Limited English Proficient.[143]

A North Carolina study found that the presence of Latin American children in schools had no significant negative effects on peers, but that students with limited English skills had slight negative effects on peers.[324]

Science and engineering

Immigrant Fazlur Khan is known for making some very important advancements in skyscraper engineering.[325] Sculpture honoring Khan at the Willis Tower.
Jawed Karim (above) and Steve Chen (below), co-founders of YouTube; they are both immigrants to the US

In the United States, a significant proportion of scientists and engineers are foreign-born, as well as students in science and engineering programs. However, this is not unique to the US since foreigners make up significant amounts of scientists and engineers in other countries. As of 2011, 28% of graduate students in science, engineering, and health are foreign.[326] The number of science and engineering (S&E) bachelor's degrees has increased steadily over the past 15 years, reaching a new peak of about half a million in 2009. Since 2000, foreign-born students in the United States have consistently earned a small share (3–4%) of S&E degrees at the bachelor's level. Foreign students make up a much higher proportion of S&E master's degree recipients than of bachelor's or associate degree recipients. In 2009, foreign students earned 27% of S&E master's degrees and 33% in doctorate degrees. Significant numbers of foreign-born students in science and engineering are not unique to America, since foreign students now account for nearly 60% of graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering globally. In Switzerland and the United Kingdom, more than 40% of doctoral students are foreign. A number of other countries, including Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, have relatively high percentages (more than 20%) of doctoral students who are foreign. Foreign student enrollment in the United Kingdom has been increasing. In 2008, foreign students made up 47% of all graduate students studying S&E in the United Kingdom (an increase from 32% in 1998). Top destinations for international students include the United Kingdom (12%), Germany (9%), and France (9%). Together with the U.S., these countries receive more than half of all internationally mobile students worldwide. Although the United States continues to attract the largest number and fraction of foreign students worldwide, its share of foreign students has decreased in recent[when?] years.[327] 55% of Ph.D. students in engineering in the United States are foreign-born (2004).[328] Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of Ph.D. scientists and engineers employed in the United States who were born abroad increased from 24% to 37%.[328] 45% of Ph.D. physicists working in the United States were foreign-born in 2004.[328] 80% of total post-doctoral chemical and materials engineering in the United States were foreign-born in 1988.[329]

At the undergraduate level, US-born engineering students constitute upwards of 90–95% of the student population (most foreign-born candidates for engineering graduate schools are trained in their home countries). However, the pool of BS engineering graduates with US citizenship is much larger than the number who apply to engineering graduate schools.[329] The proportion of foreign-born engineers among assistant professors younger than 35 years increased from 10% in 1972 to 50–55% in 1983–1985, illustrating a dramatic increase on US dependence on foreign-born students in the US college system. The increase in non-citizen assistant professors of engineering is the result of the fact that, in recent[when?] years, foreign-born engineers received close to 50 percent of newly awarded engineering doctorates (naturalized citizens accounted for about 4 percent) and, furthermore, they entered academe in disproportionately large numbers.[329] 33% of all U.S. Ph.D.s in science and engineering were awarded to foreign-born graduate students as of 2004.[328]

In 1982, foreign-born engineers constituted about 3.6% of all engineers employed in the United States, 13.9% of which were naturalized; and foreign-born Ph.D.s in Engineering constituted 15% and 20% were naturalized.[329] In 1985, foreign-born Ph.D.s represented almost 33% of the engineering post-doctorate researchers in US universities. Foreign-born Ph.D. engineers often accept postdoctoral positions because other employment is unavailable until a green card is obtained.[329] A system that further incentivising replacement of US citizens in the upper echelons of academic and private sector engineering firms due to higher educational attainment relative to native-born engineer who for the most part do train beyond undergraduate level.[330][sentence fragment]

In recent[when?] years, the number of applicants for faculty openings at research universities have increased dramatically. Numbers of 50 to 200 applications for a single faculty opening have become typical, yet even with such high numbers of applicants, the foreign-born component is in excess of 50%.[329] 60% of the top science students and 65 percent of the top math students in the United States are the children of immigrants. In addition, foreign-born high school students make up 50 percent of the 2004 U.S.Math Olympiad's top scorers, 38 percent of the U.S. Physics Team, and 25 percent of the Intel Science Talent Search finalists—the United States' most prestigious awards for young scientists and mathematicians.[331]

Among 1985 foreign-born engineering doctorate holders, about 40% expected to work in the United States after graduating. An additional 17 percent planned to stay on as post-doctorates, and most of these are likely to remain permanently in the United States. Thus, almost 60% of foreign-born engineering doctorate holders are likely to become part of the US engineering labor force within a few years after graduating. The other approximately 40% of foreign born engineering PhDs mostly likely find employment working for multinational corporations outside of the US.[329]

In the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search, more children (18) have parents who entered the country on H-1B (professional) visas than parents born in the United States (16). New H-1B visa holders each year represent less than 0.04 percent of the U.S. population.[331] Foreign born faculty now account for over 50% of faculty in engineering (1994).[329]

27 out the 87 (more than 30%) American Nobel Prize winners in Medicine and Physiology between 1901 and 2005 were born outside the US.[332]

1993 median salaries of U.S. recipients of Ph.D.s in Science and Engineering foreign-born vs. native-born were as follows:[333]

Years since earning degree Foreign-born Native-born
1–5 years $44,400 $40,000
6–10 years $55,400 $49,200
11–15 years $64,000 $56,000
16–20 years $64,000 $56,000
21 years $70,200 $68,000


Major American corporations spent $345 million lobbying for just three pro-immigration bills between 2006 and 2008.[334]

The two most prominent groups lobbying for more restrictive immigration policies for the United States are NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR); additionally, the Center for Immigration Studies think tank produces policy analysis supportive of a more restrictive stance.

Public opinion

The ambivalent feeling of Americans toward immigrants is shown by a positive attitude toward groups that have been visible for a century or more, and much more negative attitude toward recent arrivals. For example, a 1982 national poll by the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut showed respondents a card listing a number of groups and asked, "Thinking both of what they have contributed to this country and have gotten from this country, for each one tell me whether you think, on balance, they've been a good or a bad thing for this country", which produced the results shown in the table. "By high margins, Americans are telling pollsters it was a very good thing that Poles, Italians, and Jews immigrated to America. Once again, it's the newcomers who are viewed with suspicion. This time, it's the Mexicans, the Filipinos, and the people from the Caribbean who make Americans nervous."[335][336]

In a 2002 study, which took place soon after the September 11 attacks, 55% of Americans favored decreasing legal immigration, 27% favored keeping it at the same level, and 15% favored increasing it.[337]

In 2006, the immigration-reduction advocacy think tank the Center for Immigration Studies released a poll that found that 68% of Americans think U.S. 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.[338] In 2004, 55% of Americans believed legal immigration should remain at the current level or increased and 41% said it should be decreased.[339] The less contact a native-born American has with immigrants, the more likely they would have a negative view of immigrants.[339]

One of the most important factors regarding public opinion about immigration is the level of unemployment; anti-immigrant sentiment is where unemployment is highest, and vice versa.[340]

Surveys indicate that the U.S. public consistently makes a sharp distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, and generally views those perceived as "playing by the rules" with more sympathy than immigrants who have entered the country illegally.[341]

According to a Gallup poll in July 2015, immigration is the fourth most important problem facing the United States and seven percent of Americans said it was the most important problem facing America today.[342] In March 2015, another Gallup poll provided insight into American public opinion on immigration; the poll revealed that 39% of people worried about immigration "a great deal".[343] A January poll showed that only 33% of Americans were satisfied with the current state of immigration in America.[344]

Before 2012, a majority of Americans supported securing United States borders compared to dealing with illegal immigrants in the United States. In 2013, that trend has reversed and 55% of people polled by Gallup revealed that they would choose "developing a plan to deal with immigrants who are currently in the U.S. illegally". Changes regarding border control are consistent across party lines, with the percentage of Republicans saying that "securing U.S. borders to halt flow of illegal immigrants" is extremely important decreasing from 68% in 2011 to 56% in 2014. Meanwhile, Democrats who chose extremely important shifted from 42% in 2011 to 31% in 2014.[345] In July 2013, 87% of Americans said they would vote in support of a law that would "allow immigrants already in the country to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements including paying taxes, having a criminal background check and learning English". However, in the same survey, 83% also said they would support the tightening of U.S. border security.[346]

Donald Trump's campaign for presidency focused on a rhetoric of reducing illegal immigration and toughening border security. In July 2015, 48% of Americans thought that Donald Trump would do a poor job of handling immigration problems. In November 2016, 55% of Trump's voters thought that he would do the right thing regarding illegal immigration. In general, Trump supporters are not united upon how to handle immigration. In December 2016, Trump voters were polled and 60% said that "undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who meet certain requirements should be allowed to stay legally".[347]

American opinion regarding how immigrants affect the country and how the government should respond to illegal immigration have changed over time. In 2006, out of all U.S. adults surveyed, 28% declared that they believed the growing number of immigrants helped American workers and 55% believed that it hurt American workers. In 2016, those views had changed, with 42% believing that they helped and 45% believing that they hurt.[348] The PRRI 2015 American Values Atlas showed that between 46% and 53% of Americans believed that "the growing number of newcomers from other countries ... strengthens American society". In the same year, between 57% and 66% of Americans chose that the U.S. should "allow [immigrants living in the U.S. illegally] a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements".[349]

In February 2017, the American Enterprise Institute released a report on recent surveys about immigration issues. In July 2016, 63% of Americans favored the temporary bans of immigrants from areas with high levels of terrorism and 53% said the U.S. should allow fewer refugees to enter the country. In November 2016, 55% of Americans were opposed to building a border wall with Mexico. Since 1994, Pew Research center has tracked a change from 63% of Americans saying that immigrants are a burden on the country to 27%.[350]

The Trump administraton's zero-tolerance policy was reacted to negatively by the public. One of the main concerns was how detained children of illegal immigrants were treated. Due to very poor conditions, a campaign was begun called "Close the Camps".[citation needed] Detainment facilities were compared to concentration and internment camps.[351][source verification needed]

After the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan in August 2021, an NPR/Ipsos poll (±4.6%) found 69% of Americans supported resettling in the United States Afghans who had worked with the U.S., with 65% support for Afghans who "fear repression or persecution from the Taliban".[352] There was lower support for other refugees: 59% for those "fleeing from civil strife and violence in Africa", 56% for those "fleeing from violence in Syria and Libya", and 56% for "Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty". 57% supported the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy, and 55% supported legalizing the status of those illegally brought to the U.S. as children (as proposed in the DREAM Act).

Religious responses

Religious figures in the United States have stated their views on the topic of immigration as informed by their religious traditions.

  • Catholicism – In 2018, Catholic leaders stated that asylum-limiting laws proposed by the Trump administration were immoral. Some bishops considered imposing sanctions (known as "canonical penalties") on church members who have participated in enforcing such policies.[353]
  • Judaism – American Jewish rabbis from various denominations have stated that their understanding of Judaism is that immigrants and refugees should be welcomed, and even assisted. The exception would be if there is significant economic hardship or security issues faced by the host country or community, in which case immigration may be limited, discouraged or even prohibited altogether.[354] Some liberal denominations place more emphasis on the welcoming of immigrants, while Conservative, Orthodox and Independent rabbis also consider economic and security concerns.[355] Some provide moral arguments for both the right of country to enforce immigration standards as well as for providing some sort of amnesty for illegal migrants.[356]

Legal issues

Laws concerning immigration and naturalization

A U.S. green card, a document confirming permanent resident status for eligible immigrants, including refugees, political asylum seekers, family-sponsored migrants, employment-based workers and diversity immigrants (DV).

Laws concerning immigration and naturalization include:

AEDPA and IIRARA exemplify many categories of criminal activity for which immigrants, including green card holders, can be deported and have imposed mandatory detention for certain types of cases.

Asylum for refugees

A Bhutanese man standing next to several children is depicted showing the camera his passport.
The U.S. offered to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees of ethnic Nepalese descent. One depicted here with a Bhutanese passport.[359]

In contrast to economic migrants, who generally do not gain legal admission, refugees, as defined by international law, can gain legal status through a process of seeking and receiving asylum, either by being designated a refugee while abroad, or by physically entering the United States and requesting asylum status thereafter. A specified number of legally-defined refugees, who either apply for asylum overseas or after arriving in the U.S., are admitted annually.[quantify] Refugees compose about one-tenth of the total annual immigration to the United States, though some large refugee populations are very prominent.[citation needed] In 2014, the number of asylum seekers accepted into the U.S. was about 120,000. By comparison, about 31,000 were accepted in the UK and 13,500 in Canada.[360]

Since 1975, more than 1.3 million refugees from Asia have been resettled in the United States.[361] Since 2000 the main refugee-sending regions have been Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, and Ethiopia.[362] The limit for refugee resettlement for fiscal year 2008 was 80,000 refugees. The United States expected to admit a minimum of 17,000 Iraqi refugees during fiscal year 2009.[363] The U.S. has resettled more than 42,000 Bhutanese refugees from Nepal since 2008.[364]

In fiscal year 2008, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) appropriated over $655 million for long-term services provided to refugees after their arrival in the US.[365] The Obama administration has kept to about the same level.[366]

A common problem in the current system for asylum seekers is the lack of resources. Asylum offices in the United States receive more applications for asylum than they can process every month and every year. These continuous applications cause a significant backlog.[367]

The U.S. plans to resettle up to 30,000 Afghan SIV applicants into the United States.[368]

Miscellaneous documented immigration

In removal proceedings in front of an immigration judge, cancellation of removal is a form of relief that is available for certain long-time residents of the United States.[369] It allows a person being faced with the threat of removal to obtain permanent residence if that person has been physically present in the U.S. for at least ten years, has had good moral character during that period, has not been convicted of certain crimes, and can show that removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, children, or parent. This form of relief is only available when a person is served with a Notice to Appear to appear in the proceedings in the court.[370][371]

Members of Congress may submit private bills granting residency to specific named individuals. A special committee[which?] vets the requests, which require extensive documentation. 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", named after the legislation that created the agency, Public Law 110, the Central Intelligence Agency Act.

Illegal immigration

The illegal immigrant population of the United States is estimated to be between 11 and 12 million.[372] The population of unauthorized immigrants peaked in 2007 and has declined since that time.[372] The majority of the U.S. unauthorized immigrants are from Mexico, but "their numbers (and share of the total) have been declining" and as of 2016 Mexicans no longer make up a clear majority of unauthorized immigrants, as they did in the past.[373] Unauthorized immigrants made up about 5% of the total U.S. civilian labor force in 2014.[373] By the 2010s, an increasing share of U.S. unauthorized immigrants were long-term residents; in 2015, 66% of adult unauthorized residents had lived in the country for at least ten years, while only 14% had lived in the U.S. for less than five years.[373]

In June 2012, President Obama issued a memorandum instructing officers of the federal government to defer deporting young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Under the program, eligible recipients who applied and were granted DACA status were granted a two-year deferral from deportation and temporary eligibility to work legally in the country.[374] Among other criteria, to be eligible a youth applicant must (1) be between age 15 and 31; (2) have come to the United States before the age of 16; (3) have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least five years; (4) be a current student, or have earned a high school diploma or equivalent, or have received an honorable discharge from the U.S. armed services; and (5) must not "have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and [does] not otherwise pose a threat to public safety or national security".[375] The Migration Policy Institution estimated that as of 2016, about 1.3 million unauthorized young adults ages 15 and older were "immediately eligible for DACA"; of this eligible population, 63% had applied as of March 2016.[374]

Children of legal migrants will not qualify as Dreamers under DACA protection because they entered the country legally.[376] This is highlighted as the biggest contradiction in US immigration policy by many advocates of legal immigrants.

In 2014, President Obama announced a set of executive actions, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. Under this program, "unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPRs) would qualify for deferred action for three years if they meet certain other requirements".[377] A February 2016 Migration Policy Institute/Urban Institute report found that about 3.6 million people were potentially eligible for DAPA and "more than 10 million people live in households with at least one potentially DAPA-eligible adult, including some 4.3 million children under age 18 – an estimated 85 percent of whom are U.S. citizens".[377] The report also found that "the potentially DAPA eligible are well settled with strong U.S. roots, with 69 percent having lived in the United States ten years or more, and 25 percent at least 20 years".[377]

Although not without precedent under prior presidents,[378] President Obama's authority to create DAPA and expand DACA were challenged in the federal courts by Texas and 25 other states.[377] In November 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in a 2–1 decision in United States v. Texas, upheld a preliminary injunction blocking the programs from going forward.[379][380] The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2016 deadlocked 4–4, thus affirming the ruling of the Fifth Circuit but setting no nationally-binding precedent.[381][382]

Military immigration

On November 15, 2013, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that they would be issuing a new policy memorandum called "parole in place".[383] Parole in place would offer green cards to immigrant parents, spouses and children of active military duty personnel. Prior to this law, relatives of military personnel – excluding husbands and wives – were forced to leave the United States and apply for green cards in their home countries. The law allows for family members to avoid the possible ten-year bar from the United States and remain in the United States while applying for lawful permanent residence.[384] The parole status, given in one year terms, will be subject to the family member being "absent a criminal conviction or other serious adverse factors".[384]

Military children born in foreign countries are considered American from birth, assuming both parents were American citizens at the time of birth. Children born to American citizens will have to process Conciliary Reports of Birth Abroad. This report of birth abroad is the equivalent of a birth certificate and the child will use the report in place of a birth certificate for documentation. However, children born in foreign countries to United States servicemembers before they have gained citizenship could only gain citizenship through the naturalization process.

Treatment as civil proceedings

Most immigration proceedings are civil matters, including deportation proceedings, asylum cases, employment without authorization, and visa overstay. People who evade border enforcement (such as by crossing outside any official border checkpoint), who commit fraud to gain entry, or who commit identity theft to gain employment, may face criminal charges. People entering illegally were seldom charged with this crime until Operation Streamline in 2005. Conviction of this crime generally leads to a prison term, after which the person is deported if they are not eligible to remain in the country.

The guarantees under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, such as the right to counsel, and the right to a jury trial, have not been held to apply to civil immigration proceedings. As a result, people generally represent themselves in asylum and deportation cases unless they can afford an immigration lawyer or receive assistance from a legal charity. In contrast, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment has been applied to immigration proceedings.[385] Because the right to confrontation in the Sixth Amendment does not apply, people can be ordered deported in absentia – without being present at the immigration proceeding.[386]

Removal proceedings are considered administrative proceedings under the authority of the United States Attorney General, acting through the Executive Office for Immigration Review, part of the Justice Department. Immigration judges are employees of the Justice Department, and thus part of the executive branch rather than the judicial branch of government. Appeals are heard within the EOIR by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Attorney General may intervene in individual cases, within the bounds of due process.[386]

After various actions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressuring judges to speed up deportations, the National Association of Immigration Judges and The Boston Globe editorial board called for moving immigration courts to the judicial branch, to prevent abuse by strengthening separation of powers.[387][388]

Detention policy

Whether people who are awaiting a decision on their deportation are detained or released to live in the United States in the meantime (possibly paying bail) is a matter of both law and discretion of the Justice Department. The policy has varied over time and differs for those with crimes (including entry outside an official checkpoint) versus civil infractions.

The 2001 Supreme Court case Zadvydas v. Davis held that immigrants who cannot be deported because no country will accept them cannot be detained indefinitely.

Immigration in popular culture

A cartoon in Puck from 1888 attacked businessmen for welcoming large numbers of low-paid immigrants, leaving the American men unemployed.[389]

The history of immigration to the United States is the history of the country itself, and the journey from beyond the sea is an element found in American folklore, appearing in many works, such as The Godfather, Gangs of New York, "The Song of Myself", Neil Diamond's "America", and the animated feature An American Tail.[390]

From the 1880s to the 1910s, vaudeville dominated the popular image of immigrants, with very popular caricature portrayals of ethnic groups. The specific features of these caricatures became widely accepted as accurate portrayals.[391]

In The Melting Pot (1908), playwright Israel Zangwill (1864–1926) explored issues that dominated Progressive Era debates about immigration policies. Zangwill's theme of the positive benefits of the American melting pot resonated widely in popular culture and literary and academic circles in the 20th century; his cultural symbolism – in which he situated immigration issues – likewise informed American cultural imagining of immigrants for decades, as exemplified by Hollywood films.[392][393]

The popular culture's image of ethnic celebrities often includes stereotypes about immigrant groups. For example, Frank Sinatra's public image as a superstar contained important elements of the American Dream while simultaneously incorporating stereotypes about Italian Americans that were based in nativist and Progressive responses to immigration.[394]

The process of assimilation has been a common theme of popular culture. For example, "lace-curtain Irish" refers to middle-class Irish Americans desiring assimilation into mainstream society in counterpoint to the older, more raffish "shanty Irish". The occasional malapropisms and social blunders of these upward mobiles were lampooned in vaudeville, popular song, and the comic strips of the day such as Bringing Up Father, starring Maggie and Jiggs, which ran in daily newspapers for 87 years (1913 to 2000).[395][396] In The Departed (2006), Staff Sergeant Dignam regularly points out the dichotomy between the lace-curtain Irish lifestyle Billy Costigan enjoyed with his mother, and the shanty Irish lifestyle of Costigan's father. In recent years,[when?] the popular culture has paid special attention to Mexican immigration;[397] the film Spanglish (2004) tells of a friendship of a Mexican housemaid (played by Paz Vega) and her boss (played by Adam Sandler).

Immigration in literature

Maggie and Jiggs from Bringing Up Father (January 7, 1940).

Novelists and writers have captured much of the color and challenge in their immigrant lives through their writings.[398]

Regarding Irish women in the 19th century, there were numerous novels and short stories by Harvey O'Higgins, Peter McCorry, Bernard O'Reilly and Sarah Orne Jewett that emphasize emancipation from Old World controls, new opportunities and expansiveness of the immigrant experience.[399]

Hladnik studies three popular novels of the late 19th century that warned Slovenes not to immigrate to the dangerous new world of the United States.[400][needs context]

Jewish American writer Anzia Yezierska wrote her novel Bread Givers (1925) to explore such themes as Russian-Jewish immigration in the early 20th century, the tension between Old and New World Yiddish culture, and women's experience of immigration. A well established author Yezierska focused on the Jewish struggle to escape the ghetto and enter middle- and upper-class America. In the novel, the heroine, Sara Smolinsky, escapes from New York City's "down-town ghetto" by breaking tradition. She quits her job at the family store and soon becomes engaged to a rich real-estate magnate. She graduates college and takes a high-prestige job teaching public school. Finally Sara restores her broken links to family and religion.[401]

The Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, in the mid-20th century, wrote a series of four novels describing one Swedish family's migration from Småland to Minnesota in the late 19th century, a destiny shared by almost one million people. The author emphasizes the authenticity of the experiences as depicted (although he did change names).[402] These novels have been translated into English (The Emigrants, 1951, Unto a Good Land, 1954, The Settlers, 1961, The Last Letter Home, 1961). The musical Kristina från Duvemåla by ex-ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson is based on this story.[403][404]

The Immigrant is a musical by Steven Alper, Sarah Knapp, and Mark Harelik. The show is based on the story of Harelik's grandparents, Matleh and Haskell Harelik, who traveled to Galveston, Texas in 1909.[405]

Documentary films

Film about historical immigration to America from ca. 1970

In their documentary How Democracy Works Now: Twelve Stories, filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini examine the American political system through the lens of immigration reform from 2001 to 2007. Since the debut of the first five films, the series has become an important resource for advocates, policy-makers and educators.[406]

That film series premiered nearly a decade after the filmmakers' landmark documentary film Well-Founded Fear which provided a behind-the-scenes look at the process for seeking asylum in the United States. That film still marks the only time that a film-crew was privy to the private proceedings at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where individual asylum officers ponder the often life-or-death fate of immigrants seeking asylum.

In the documentary "Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller", it was argued that weapons smuggling from the United States contributed to insecurity in Latin America, itself triggering more migration to the United States.[407]

Overall approach to regulation

University of North Carolina law professor Hiroshi Motomura has identified three approaches the United States has taken to the legal status of immigrants in his book Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States. The first, dominant in the 19th century, treated immigrants as in transition; in other words, as prospective citizens. As soon as people declared their intention to become citizens, they received multiple low-cost benefits, including the eligibility for free homesteads in the Homestead Act of 1869,[clarification needed] and in many states, the right to vote. The goal was to make the country more attractive, so large numbers of farmers and skilled craftsmen would settle new lands. By the 1880s, a second approach took over, treating newcomers as "immigrants by contract". An implicit deal existed where immigrants who were literate and could earn their own living were permitted in restricted numbers. Once in the United States, they would have limited legal rights, but were not allowed to vote until they became citizens, and would not be eligible for the New Deal government benefits available in the 1930s. The third and more recent policy[when?] is "immigration by affiliation", which Motomura argues is the treatment which depends on how deeply rooted people have become in the country. An immigrant who applies for citizenship as soon as permitted, has a long history of working in the United States, and has significant family ties, is more deeply affiliated and can expect better treatment.[408]

The Statue of Liberty was a common sight to many immigrants who entered the United States through Ellis Island

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.[409] 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.[410] This dream has been a major factor in attracting immigrants to the United States.[411]

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