The history of immigration to the United States is a combination of fear, hope, policy and persistence.
The Statue of Liberty was a convenient symbol of freedom for immigrants arriving to New York's Ellis Island
at the beginning of the 20th century. But once those immigrants arrived, there were numerous economic,
language and cultural barriers to overcome before achieving stability.
The United States was established by immigrants. Prior to the Civil War, many Western Europeans, British and
Irish immigrated to the Northeast. While there were some harsh reactions to their arrival (particularly toward
the Irish), there was a general acceptance of these newcomers since their religious and ethnic background was
similar to most Americans.
After the Civil War, however, there was a geographical shift. People from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as
Asia, began arriving in the United States and many settled on the West Coast. The reactions to these immigrants
were often negative. The previous generations of immigrants resented the threat the newcomers presented to their
new lifestyle. Some Americans were less than thrilled with the arrival of non-whites and Catholics. Restrictions
on immigration were imposed, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, immigration quotas and literacy tests. This
culminated in the National Origins Act of 1924, which put a strict cap on the number of new immigrants allowed.
Today the origins of most immigrants have shifted again. South Florida has seen an influx of Cubans and
Haitians, while California and Texas have become home to Latin American immigrants. The American reaction
is still often xenophobic. Congress has discussed a bill to establish English as a national language. In
1994, California voters approved Proposition 187 (which was later found unconstitutional), which would have
denied medical care and education to undocumented immigrants.
To learn more about the history of immigration in the United States and perhaps trace your own family's roots,
check out these sites:
It's the place many immigrants first called America, and today the island is a tribute to those who passed through
it from 1892 to 1954. Now you can search original passenger manifests from ships coming to Ellis Island.
USCIC History, Genealogy and Education
At the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services site, read historical accounts of U.S. immigration and policy,
access other research tools and learn about what the government agency does today.
Immigration History Research Center
Run by the University of Minnesota, the nonprofit IHRC serves to document American immigration through archives
of records and documents from the great immigration wave of the early 20th century. A great source for school
projects and presentations.
From the Library of Congress, this site provides a brief, but solid background on the immigration experience
as well as a bibliography to help with further research.
Historical overviews, timelines and quizzes about immigration.