The Impact of Immigration on America

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Over the years, immigration has shaped America as a powerful nation. The US has long been seen as country that offers many opportunities, a country where potential immigrants can attain success as well as upward mobility. Immigration has, in fact, contributed immensely to the nation’s progress including being accountable for how the nation and its demographic population are presently as well as contributing to the social, economic, and political processes that are vital to the nation. In this regard, this paper seeks to examine how America’s historical context has shaped our acceptance and rejection of immigrants. It will do so by first discussing the major immigration peaks that have taken place in US history as well as outline the vital events and legislation that have influenced our acceptance and rejection of immigration.

Massive Immigration Peaks in US History

Even though immigration has taken place throughout the history of America, massive immigration has happened during four important peak eras namely, the peopling of the original colonies, the westward expansion in the 19th century, as well as the rise of cities in the 20th century. The last peak began in the period of the 1970s and is still ongoing today. These peaks have occurred simultaneously with crucial changes of the US economy. The first witnessed the settlement of Europeans in the United States. The second enabled America to transform from a colonial to an agriculture-based economy. During the third period, the industrial revolution led the US to develop a manufacturing economy, facilitating the rise of America to become the world’s superpower (Meissner, and Hipsman). Finally, the present immigration has occurred simultaneously with globalization as well as the last transformation stages from a manufacturing economy to an economy that is knowledge-based. Presently, individuals are migrating into the US primarily due to economic reasons. Moreover, it is paramount to note that immigration is aiding America to accommodate new realities in the economy.

Politics of Immigration

Notably, the US rarely adjusts its policies concerning immigration even though it considers itself a nation of immigration and immigrants. This can be attributed to the fact that the politics concerning immigration issues can be intensely disruptive. Immigration policy, consequently, has frequently been progressively detached from the social and economic strains that propel immigration. In instances where changes have taken place, they have, in general, taken many years to legislate.

Current Immigration Reforms

Presently, America is now considering new reforms that intend to address issues of illegal immigration and those in the system of legal immigration. These issues have not been updated since 1990. One of these reforms is the impetus for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) which is now being considered by Congress and the Senate (Meissner, and Hipsman). This reform intends to heighten enforcement at the country’s interior and borders, legalize the country’s unauthorized immigrants, as well as administer legal channels for employers in the US to gain access to future workers they require. It is vital to note that this particular reform has been under consideration since 2001, with vital debates occurring in 2006 and 2007. CIR, to some extent, intends to increase immigration into the country.

Historical Events Shaping Rejection of Immigrants

Markedly, immigration into the US increased at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Many of these immigrants were coming from Southern and Eastern Europe. Also, for many native-born US citizens of northern European descent, the rising diversity of new customs, languages, as well as religions triggered racial animosity and anxiety. Because of this, some embraced nativism, cherishing white Americans with older family trees over recent immigrants as well as dismissing outside influences primarily in favor of their individual local customs. In addition, nativists aroused a sense of fear over the sensed foreign threat, referring to the anarchist assassinations of the Italian King in 1900, the Spanish prime minister in 1897, as well as President William Mckinley in 1901 as evidence. In 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia took place, the sense of an imminent communist or foreign threat grew among those who already distrusted immigrants. This has largely shaped the United States’ rejection of immigrants.

Impact of Legislation on Immigration

The events of the 19th century, more specifically, eradicating chronic illnesses and disability, have largely shaped America’s rejection of immigrants. Because of growing immigration rates in the 1880s and 1890s, a growingly complicated industrial economy, as well as the increasing concern about the spread of infectious illnesses, the federal government took charge of the country’s borders in 1891 to restrict immigration (Mullan). After the federal government took charge, immigrants were to be medically examined at Ellis Island where they were screened for infectious diseases, disability, and their mental health status. This, in turn, has contributed to the notion that immigrants often have infectious diseases and others have various impairments, thus, they cannot effectively contribute to the US economy. For this reason, many are against the idea of immigration into the country because they see immigrants as a burden to the economy.

Attitudes towards Skilled Labor Immigration

It is vital to comprehend that legislation played a pivotal role in the movements of immigration during the period of the 1920s and 1930s. Legislation was employed in establishing a precedent in immigration matters and, in addition, pointed out who could enter the nation, for what reason they could enter the nation, and the number of foreigners who could enter the country. Several legislative issues and court rulings that took place since the mid-1800s paved the way for increased immigration, but at a restricted rate. Also, immigration occurred with numerous stipulations. There were legislative rulings on Asians, Blacks, Mexicans, and Europeans. Additionally, in spite of these complicated limitations, individuals still flocked to the country. It is imperative to note that during the 1920s and 1930s as well, there was a huge shortage of labor that needed to be addressed, particularly in the American West. At that time, Agricultural businessmen and manufacturers agreed that there should be limitations on immigration but they should not restrict the workers who are skilled. This would, therefore, assist with the labor struggle. Individuals did not want to restrict skilled labor due to the need for skilled personnel in the 1920s. As a result, many individuals today accept immigration primarily due to the belief that immigrants supply labor, especially cheap labor.

Impact of Post-War Urbanization on Attitudes towards Immigration

Many individuals had negative attitudes towards immigration after both World War I and the 2nd World War. This negative opinion was mainly in response to the postwar urbanization process. American cities and towns were steadily becoming opportunity centers. However, the growth of towns – particularly the increase of immigrant populations in those towns – increased rural dissatisfaction over the sense of accelerated cultural change. As many people migrated to cities for quality of life and jobs, those who remained in rural areas felt that there was a direct threat to their way of life. Rural Americans view cities as extravagant and sinful whereas, those who lived in urban areas saw rural Americans as hayseeds who were behind the times. Because of rural dissatisfaction over a growth in cultural change, there are some people who still reject immigration.

Impact of 9/11 on Immigration Policy

Notably, the events of 9/11 have greatly shaped America’s immigration policy and rejection of immigrants. The terrorist attacks of September 11 have greatly influenced the actions and thoughts of the American citizenry and its leaders. Many people were against immigration after the aftermath of the terrorist attack. After 9/11, immigration policies have become more robust. Because of the fact that the 9/11 terrorists got valid visas to enter the US, in spite of some being known by American intelligence, the system of immigration came under scrutiny. Because of this, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was dissolved. Following the 9/11 incidence, increased security as well as data-haring measures has enabled the government to attain the goal of "pushing the border out (Meissner, and Hipsman)." Because of heightened screening procedures of those who want to enter the United States, people who pose a threat to the nation can be stopped from reaching American soil. One consequence of tough screening procedures was a reduction of visas issued to people wanting to work, visit, as well as reside in the US. Also, the number of people given asylum in the country dramatically dropped. For instance, presently, when it comes to Asylum cases at the San Ysidro border, the government limits crossing to between forty and a hundred per day. Consequently, many individuals are trapped in the impediment (Kinosian).


To sum up, immigration has shaped the US as a nation. Therefore, immigration still serves a valuable purpose for the country. However, there are events in history that still continue to shape our acceptance and rejection of immigration today.

Works Cited

Kinosian, Sarah. "Migrants At Mexico Border Face An Uncertain Future On Their Own". The Guardian, 2018, Web. 10 Dec. 2018.

Meissner, Doris, and Faye Hipsman. "Immigration In The United States: New Economic, Social, Political Landscapes With Legislative Reform On The Horizon". Migrationpolicy.Org, 2013, Web. 10 Dec. 2018.

Mullan, E. H. "Mental Examination Of Immigrants: Administration And Line Inspection At Ellis Island". Public Health Reports (1896-1970), vol 32, no. 20, 1917, p. 733. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/4574515.

November 13, 2023


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