So, the issue of who to let into this country and who do not let into this country is about as old as the country itself. It’s an issue that America’s debated since the early 19th century and we’ve admitted people from nearly every single country since. But it hasn’t really been an even admission process.
So, this line represents 200,000 legal immigrants to the US and we’re going to stack them up to see when they came to the US and where they came from. So early on, most were European, largely Irish, German, and British and there were also, Chinese and Canadian immigrants.
But in 1882, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration for 10 years. That was extended and then made permanent and it wasn’t repealed for 61 years. The economic depression of the 1890’s decreased European immigration and nearly stopped Canadian immigration entirely. But after the depression, the demographics of immigrants changed and there was a rise in Russian, Italians, Spanish, and Japanese immigrants.
In 1917, the US banned immigration from Asian countries entirely the Philippines and Japan. In 1921, the US capped immigration based on nationality. This severely limited the ability to immigrate to the US for people not from the western hemisphere or a country with older roots in the US. Then, the Great Depression happened. All immigration plummeted. Then, World War II happened. The US refused to increase immigration caps for 20,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi rule. It also stopped naturalization proceedings for Italians, Germans, and Japanese.
In 1952, the US stopped excluding immigrants based on race. But more stringent quotas meant most slots were for Western Europeans. In 1965, the quota system was entirely repealed. It allowed for a far more diverse group of immigrants, particularly from Central America and South America, but also Asia. In the 1970s and 80s, Asian immigrants arrived in huge numbers, largely from the Philippines, South Korea, India, and Hong Kong. The US also evacuated 130,000 people from Vietnam after the war.
In the 1990s, the U.S increased immigration caps to 700,000 annually. The country began to invest in border security to discourage unauthorized immigration, but in exchange allowed nearly 1.7 million Mexican immigrants in the 1990s. Immigration to the US is now more diverse than ever, but with the rise of ISIS and the Syrian refugee crisis, prominent politicians are again talking about which immigrant groups to restrict.