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An Overview of Immigration to America



America is a land of Immigrants. The 1992 census recorded 58 million German Americans, 39 million Irish Americans, 33 million English Americans, 30 million African Americans, 22 million Hispanic Americans, 15 million Italian Americans, 10 million French Americans, and 9 million Polish Americans. The very first census in the United States was taken in 1790. About 1 million African Americans and 4 million European Americans were recorded. This marked the turning point; people who arrived in America after this date were no longer colonists, they were immigrants. In most cases, the promise of freedom--religious, political, social, and economic--has brought immigrants to America. The African American experience, however, is very different from the other immigrant groups. They did not choose to come here.

The United States officially began recording immigration statistics in 1820. This country has experienced three great waves of immigration. The first wave, known as the Old Immigrants, occurred between 1820 to 1890. Most of these immigrants came from northern and western Europe. The Irish were escaping famine; German Jews were looking for religious freedom; German and Scandinavian farmers settled in the Great Plains; and the Chinese wanted to be a part of the Gold Rush. During these years, only the Civil War slowed down immigration.

The second wave, called the Great Migration, lasted from 1890 to 1924. Southern and Eastern Europeans came to Ellis Island in New York Harbor. So did Russian Jews who were escaping persecution in Russia. On the West Coast, Japanese were arriving at Angel Island. Again, war stopped the number of immigrants coming into the country. At the end of World War I, more refugees flooded into the United States, where unemployment was high. In 1924, limits were placed on the number of immigrants who could come to America.

The third wave of immigrants arrived in the United states after World War II. This wave included refugees from Vietnam, Laos, cambodia, and Cuba. During this time period, Central and South Americans went north for economic and political reasons.

No matter where they emigrated from, people's stories often have similarities, such as the separation of families, long and difficult voyages across the sea, crowded living conditions in the cities, hard work, and discrimination. But everyone's story, too, is unique.

Adapted from Immigration by Sarah J. Glasscock